Whenever I heard the words “menopause” or “postmenopausal women” I used to picture gray-haired abuelitas. I never expected menopause could sneak up on you in your 40s! It turns out that a number of reasons, from medical treatments to genetics or lifestyle choices, may bring about the early onset of menopause. If you haven’t turned 40 yet when this happens, it is medically described as premature menopause. If you are between 40 and 45 years of age, it is called early menopause.
The average age for natural menopause in the United States is 51, which means I was wrong about the gray-haired grannies! Whatever the timing is, when it occurs naturally, the process is divided into three stages: peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause. The first stage, usually lasting a few years, is easy to detect for most of us because things begin to feel different. Typically a woman will experience irregular periods, increased menstrual discomfort, vaginal dryness, mood swings, decreased sex drive and even hot flashes.
UNCERTAIN FERTILITY During this time, the decline in fertility does not eliminate entirely the possibility of getting pregnant, so watch out if you are not planning for another baby! After this transition, the absence of menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months signals a woman has entered menopause. This marks the end of her fertile years and only at this point is it safe to stop using birth control.
Nowadays, when childbearing is prolonged well into our 40s, early or premature menopause can be devastating news for many hopeful mamis who are still counting on having children. Premature menopause cannot be reversed, so women who are planning a family must seek the help of fertility experts.
PROBABLE CAUSES While in the great majority of cases there is no apparent cause for the early timing of menopause, in others it may be linked to one of the following factors: