One of the myths about menopause is that it happens when you’re older. Women in their thirties and early forties aren’t usually thinking about menopause. It’s not on their radar.
So when symptoms like having no energy, brain fog, sensitive bladder, wonky periods, vaginal dryness or pants getting tighter start happening, they go to their internist, mental health professional, urologist, and eventually their gynecologist.
But the truth of the matter is that 5-10 percent of women go into early menopause – before age 46. And one in one hundred women enter menopause before age 40 in what’s called premature menopause.
Let’s consider three examples of how patients experience this.
Debbie was 28 years old and a rising star in a Boston financial services company. She had a boyfriend but was not yet really thinking of marriage and family. There was plenty of time for that. For now she was working long hours and rising through the ranks.
Her main problem was that her periods had become irregular. She was a little more tired than usual and her sleep was a bit off, but she just wanted to straighten out her menstrual cycle. During her evaluation, she was found to be in premature menopause. A box of Kleenex discussion followed.
Megan was 34 years old and a CPA. She had married 5 years early but waited to have children in order to secure her position in her company. When she and her husband tried for over a year to conceive, she went in for fertility treatments. She was feeling so stressed that the warm sensations and anxiety she was feeling just seemed like a normal reaction to stress. Her hormone tests revealed early menopause.
Judith was 37 years old. She had a strong family history of breast cancer. She had two children that were three and five years old and was feeling terrific. Unfortunately, when her family history led to an evaluation, she was found to have the BRCA or breast cancer gene mutation.
The BRCA mutation increases the risk of both ovarian and breast cancer – and pancreatic cancer. To lower her risk of cancer, her fallopian tubes and ovaries were removed the next year, which threw her abruptly into early menopause.
All three women, as different as their situations were, ended up in early menopause. And early menopause carries special risks for women who do not take estrogen. I discuss this in detail in my book, The Estrogen Window.
There are also specific treatments for each of these women, and the sooner they discover that their symptoms or circumstances would lead to early menopause, the sooner they can get the treatment they need. The important thing is to figure it out, so you don’t have to tough it out. Menopause is not about age; it’s about transition.
Wondering how your symptoms compare to those of other women? Take the two-minute menopausequiz.com and get instant feedback and follow up tips to help you.