During the natural course of events, a women's body starts its reproductive phase with menarche and at about 50 years of age, attains menopause. This is when the reproductive function ceases and the ovaries stop producing the hormone estrogen and progesterone. In some cases, for various reasons including medical, the ovaries stop functioning earlier, and this is medically termed early or premature menopause. Menopause that occurs before 40 years of age is termed premature menopause; it is due to primary ovarian insufficiency and occurs in 1% of the women. If it occurs between 45 to 50 years, it is termed early menopause.
Causes: Normal ageing, family history, genetic disorders, autoimmune disorders, toxins, and surgery are some reasons that could lead to premature menopause.
Effects: Estrogen and progesterone have a lot of beneficial effects on a women's body. Reduction in their levels leads to some of the below changes:
- Emotional changes like mood swings, irritability, and in some cases depression, especially in premature menopause.
- Irregular cycles before complete cessation of the menstrual cycles.
- General mucosal dryness leading to vaginal dryness, dry skin, dry eyes.
- There also would be urinary incontinence and reduced sex drive due to reduced hormone levels.
- For women who still would want to have children, infertility would be a big cause for concern. This could lead to other emotional issues, worsening the depression.
- Osteoporosis - Bones lose their density and get weak and are more prone to fracture.
- Cardiovascular health - Post menopause, women are more prone to heart attacks and stroke. Though not fully proven, this is believed to be true as the good role that estrogen plays on blood vessels is negated with menopause.
- Accelerated ageing - Menopause leads to accelerated damage of genetic structures, thereby leading to faster ageing. This also leaves a feeling in the women of being less attractive and less desirable.
There is also a good news, that after menopause women are at lesser risk of cancer - especially breast and ovarian.
It is not easy for women to handle premature menopause. The body undergoes some changes much earlier than expected, and it requires a lot of support and caring and comforting to come to terms with it - especially if associated with infertility or chemotherapy for cancer. Emotional issues of not being able to have children and feeling less attractive require frank talks to boost the person's confidence and increase self-worthiness.
It is easier said than done, but one of the key ways to handle premature menopause is an open discussion.