If you’re in your forties or younger and have been experiencing symptoms such as hot flushes and irregular periods, you may be going through early menopause or perimenopause. But don’t worry. Although it’s daunting, the menopause is a completely natural process that people experience. However, if you’re experiencing these symptoms before the average age, you may be going through early menopause.
- When it starts
- Early menopause
- Weight gain
- The final say
- Video: Supporting you through the menopause
What is menopause?
Simply put, menopause just means your last menstrual period. The average menopause age is 51, and many people start experiencing symptoms of menopause in their mid-to-late 40s.1,2 The phase surrounding it, including symptoms such as mood swings and night sweats, is called the perimenopause but today we refer to this whole stage as the menopause.
When does menopause start?
Medically speaking, menopause officially starts a full year after your last period. But before this, it’s likely that you’ll go through perimenopause. This is the time where your hormones start to fluctuate in the build up to menopause, so you may experience some symptoms like hot flushes during this time.3
Perimenopause can start in your thirties, but it most commonly starts during your forties. But it is also possible that you could be going through early menopause.
What is early menopause?
Early menopause is when someone’s period stops before the age of 45. This can be natural, or it could be as a result of certain medical procedures or treatments.4
This can be caused by things like your ovaries stopping to function, radiotherapy or surgical removal of your ovaries.4
Signs and symptoms of early menopause
Not every woman will experience the same early menopause symptoms and yours may differ from day to day. Here are some symptoms that you may have if you’re going through early menopause:4
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irregular periods
- Thinning hair
- Low mood
- Poor concentration
- Painful sex, often caused by a dry or thinning vagina
- Changes in libido
Those who go through early menopause may also be at a higher risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease due to decreased oestrogen levels.
What causes menopause?
Unless you’re experiencing early menopause, or premature ovarian failure (POF), the menopause is triggered by natural hormonal changes. Your ovaries stop releasing eggs, levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone start to drop, and your body starts to produce more of the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).5 It is low oestrogen levels that trigger many common menopause symptoms.6
Could I be experiencing something else?
You could also experience joint and bone pain, heart palpitations, dizzy spells, changes in taste or smell, indigestion, panic attacks, or itchy skin. Some of these occur well before the usual menopause symptoms, leading to unnecessary tests or medication for mis-diagnosed conditions. Ask your GP to test your FSH levels if you think you may be starting the menopause.
Can menopause be predicted?
If your mother had an early menopause, you are 30 to 50 per cent more likely to go through it early too. However, if you smoke or drink more than your mother did at the same age, or experience more stress, this can trigger an earlier menopause. Likewise, if you are healthier than she was, this could mean you have a later menopause age or less severe symptoms.
Testing for menopause
Wondering if you can get a test for menopause? While it isn’t entirely a foolproof method, you can test your follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels which can provide some insight. In fact, if you have not had a period for an entire year and your FSH level is consistently lifted to 30 mIU/mL or higher, it is generally accepted that you’re menopausal.7
Will menopause cause weight gain?
Many complain about a thicker waist after the menopause. Some of this is due to raised testosterone levels which redistribute fat in a more masculine ‘apple’ shape, but it can also be caused by our body trying to rebalance our hormones.
Fat around the middle actually produces hormone-like substances. As your ovaries are no longer producing oestrogen, your body will want to produce it elsewhere for the protective effects it has against osteoporosis and heart disease. You therefore can naturally start to store more fat around your waist.
If you’re overweight, you will experience more with menopause symptoms so try to keep your weight down. American researchers recently discovered losing just 10lb could reduce the number of night sweats and hot flushes.
The final say
We hope you’ve got a bit more insight on whether you’re experiencing menopause or not, plus the reality of early menopause. For more information like this, explore our women’s health articles on the Health Hub.
This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies