Aging Isn’t the Only Cause of Menopause
Every woman experiences menopause, but not every woman reaches menopause the same way. In most cases, menopause is a result of the natural aging process, but menopause has other causes. Certain medical procedures and rare ovarian conditions can also trigger it.
Natural menopause is caused by aging. As you reach your late 30s, healthy ovarian sex hormone production begins to change. The ovaries release less estrogen and progesterone, and the chances of getting pregnant decrease because the ovaries produce fewer viable eggs.
Your ovaries will eventually stop producing eggs and estrogen levels will be significantly reduced. After 12 consecutive months of missed periods, you have technically reached menopause. Most women experience natural menopause around 51 years of age.
Induced menopause is menopause caused by medical procedures or treatments. A woman can have menopause induced at any age between her first and last periods.
Surgical procedures and cancer treatments commonly induce menopause:
- Surgery: Two surgical procedures—a bilateral oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries) and a total hysterectomy (removal of the cervix and uterus), if it includes removal of both ovaries—immediately bring on menopause. Your doctor may refer to this as surgical menopause.
A hysterectomy that involves only the removal of the uterus will not immediately result in menopause, even though fertility and menstruation stops.
Women who have surgical menopause do not experience perimenopause. However, they'll likely experience the symptoms associated with that stage, such as hot flashes and mood swings.
- Cancer treatments: Chemotherapy and pelvic radiation therapy can significantly impact healthy ovarian function. As such, these treatments may induce menopause. Women who experience menopause as a result of cancer treatments may have signs and symptoms of menopause during treatment or a few months after. The emerging field of oncofertility is focused on providing fertility-preserving therapy to premenopausal women with cancer.
Primary Ovarian Insufficiency
A small amount of women—about 1%—reach menopause before age 40. This is known as premature menopause. This may occur from primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), which occurs when your ovaries are unable to produce sufficient amounts of hormones.
In many cases, physicians are unable to pinpoint the exact cause of POI. It can be due to an autoimmune disease, an infection, or have a genetic cause. Your doctor may run tests to rule out these known causes of POI.
Regardless of the cause of menopause, what's most important is that you keep your doctor involved. He or she will educate you on treatment options and help you avoid any potential complications.