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Managing Menopause

“I felt old and that my young, jubilant self was dying”: the truth about premature menopause

iStock / Getty Images Plus / jacoblund

Dr Sheela Purkayastha

Consultant Gynaecologist & Menopause Specialist

1 in 100 women will experience menopause before the age of 40[1]. Although it has a huge impact on a woman’s life, it is rarely talked about.

What is it like going through early menopause?

Early menopause has a dramatic impact on a woman’s physical, emotional and psychological health. Women aren’t always aware of their options, and some don’t even realise what is happening to them.

Three women share their experiences

Lucy: “When my periods stopped and I first experienced hair loss, insomnia and a permanent sense of exhaustion, I presumed these things were caused by stress. It didn’t occur to me that these were symptoms of the start of menopause. I was a fit and healthy 35-year-old – wasn’t menopause something that happened to women in their 50s?”

Sarah: “It was a hugely shocking diagnosis that came completely out of the blue – especially as we’d had no problem conceiving our first child”.

Julie: “I was losing interest in sex, I had begun to “leak” urine when laughing, sneezing, or coughing. I had moods and lacked energy. Essentially, I wasn’t myself: I felt old and that my young jubilant self was dying. Was I getting old?”

I was a fit and healthy 35-year-old – wasn’t menopause something that happened to women in their 50s?

What causes premature menopause?

The terms associated with the condition Premature Ovarian Insufficiency and Ovarian Failure are not only painful to hear but imply that there is no solution; which leads many women to suffer in silence. Moving away from these associations is vital if we are to have a more open discussion. Such openness improves the likelihood of an early diagnosis, without which there is a high risk of infertility, menopausal symptoms, bone loss and other health problems.

The exact cause is unknown. Genetics, immune system disorders, infection, after-effects of surgery and cancer treatment have all been identified as possible causes.

How to recognise the signs of premature menopause

Symptoms include:

As in Lucy’s case, many women chalk this up to stress and put off going to the doctor. If you are experiencing these symptoms and are under the age of 40, you shouldn’t ignore them: ask for help.

How to get help for premature menopause

Visit your GP first. They will run simple blood tests to check your hormone levels (no invasive tests). If necessary, your GP can refer you to a menopause specialist.

Treatment options for premature menopause

The most important thing is to speak to an expert to understand the treatment options available. HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) ensures normal periods and relieves menopausal symptoms. The oral contraceptive pill is often preferred and can be just as effective as HRT in suitable cases.

An innovative new approach offered by specialists uses Erbian Yag laser treatment to rejuvenate the vagina. This alleviates vaginal dryness and pain during sex. If premature menopause is diagnosed early, it is still possible to get pregnant with fertility treatment.

Moving forward: Lucy, Sarah and Julie talk about what came next:

Lucy: “Thanks to an early diagnosis by my fantastic gynaecologist, I was able to successfully undergo fertility treatment and have two beautiful children. My ongoing treatment ensures that I sleep better and my hair has grown back, which has made an enormous difference to my quality of life.”

Sarah: “I saw a specialist, who – luckily – was brilliant. I can highly recommend The Daisy Network, which offers invaluable advice and network of women in the same position.”

Julie: “After considering my medical history, Dr Purkayastha tailor-made an oestrogen/progesterone/testosterone replacement therapy for me. Quickly, my body responded to the oestrogen and I felt my young self returning.”

I may be getting older, but I feel younger and look forward to a fuller life.

Opening up discussion of early menopause is vital to ensure early diagnosis and treatment. See your doctor if you suspect you have these symptoms and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.   

[1] The British Menopause Society and Women’s Health Concern recommendations on the management of women with premature ovarian insufficiency, April 2017

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