When do you think menopause happens? One common myth that I hear all the time is that menopause happens when you’re older. If you think that menopause happens when you’re older you may may be surprised that the mean age of menopause is 51 years, and the range is 46 to 55.
But five to ten percent of women go into menopause at age 45 or under. Five to ten percent! One in one hundred women enters menopause before age 40. One in 10,000 women enters menopause before age 30. And the symptoms begin up to 10 years before that.
That means women in their late 30s, early 40s often start having these symptoms. Do you have no energy? Foggy thinking? Can’t sleep? Sensitive bladder? Lower intimacy? I’ve heard these complaints so many times.
Let me tell you how it plays out in my office. Janet is 28 years old. She’s single; she’s got a boyfriend; she’s got a great job in the financial sector of Boston; and she’s having some really irregular periods. They got really wonky on her. So she comes in and says, “Fix my periods.”
Typically not a big deal. So we do an evaluation, and in the course of the evaluation, I find out that Janet is in early menopause. Believe me, that’s a “box of Kleenex” discussion.
The next person I want to tell you about is a woman named Paula. Paula is also a very successful woman. She an entrepreneur who has her own business. She and her husband have been married now for almost five years, and they have decided that they want to have a kid. They’ve been trying, but it’s not working. Things aren’t going well. She comes in to see if I have any suggestions, because she’s already tried everything. In the course of my evaluation, I find out that Paula is going into early menopause. Now this really throws a monkey wrench into everything, right? It really does.
The third woman I want to tell you about is Sandra. Sandra’s story is typical of many women that I’m seeing today in increasing numbers. Sandra is 35 and has a very, very, very strong history of breast cancer and ovarian cancer in her family. So she gets tested for the BRCA or BReast CAncer gene, and it’s positive. That means she has about a five-fold increase of breast cancer, and about a ten-fold increase of ovarian cancer.
Sandra elects to have her tubes and her ovaries removed, so that she’ll be in a position to lower her risk of those two very serious conditions. She’ll lower her risk of breast cancer by 50%, she’ll lower her risk of ovarian cancer by 90%. But the surgery is also going to throw her into early menopause.
She’s already talked with her oncologist, and the oncologist says, “Well, we’re worried about breast cancer, so we’re not going to give you any hormones. You’ll have to tough it out.” She’s petrified, because in natural menopause, hormone levels decline gradually. But when you surgically take out the ovaries – BOOM. The hormones levels instantly drop from normal levels to virtually nil. And that causes the symptoms to be so severe – hot flashes, depression, anxiety, dryness, poor sleep and more. And they can last an additional decade more than with natural menopause. It also increases the risk of heart disease, depression and dementia if estrogen isn’t taken, at least to the time of natural menopause.
Here’s the information I have to Sandra and that you must know. We now have evidence to show and prove that women with the BRCA gene who get estrogen after they have their ovaries out, don’t increase their risk of having breast cancer. The risk is no greater than the background possibility. Incredibly important information for you to know if you or a loved one has this gene.
In these three scenarios, all different, they’re all bound by a common thread, and that is, that menopause happens as a life transition. It’s not about age. It’s about transition. The sooner that you can figure it out, the sooner you won’t have to tough it out.
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