In the U.S., the average age of onset for "natural" menopause is 51. However, because of genetics, illness, or medical procedures, some women go through menopause before the age of 40. Menopause that occurs before this age, whether natural or induced, is known as "premature" menopause.
In addition to dealing with hot flashes, mood swings, and other symptoms that accompany menopause, many women undergoing premature menopause have to cope with additional physical and emotional concerns. For example, because menopause signals the end of a woman's fertile years, a woman who wishes to get pregnant is likely to have trouble.
Menopause symptoms, like hot flashes and drop in sex drive, haven't changed. But the way women deal with menopause has.
"Women are becoming more accepting of the physical and emotional challenges that are associated with menopause and accepting them as natural, transitional changes," says Karen Giblin. She's the founder of Red Hot Mamas, a national menopause education program. "They're focusing on feeling good and looking at menopause more positively."
In addition to the symptoms listed above, if you are under the age of 40 and experience any of the following conditions, you should see your doctor to determine whether you are undergoing premature menopause:
You have unsuccessfully tried to become pregnant for more than a year
Your mother or sister experienced premature menopause
How Is Premature Menopause Diagnosed?
To diagnose premature menopause, your doctor will most likely perform a physical exam and draw blood to rule out other conditions, such as pregnancy and thyroid disease. He or she may also order a test to measure your estradiol levels. Low levels of estradiol, a form of estrogen, can indicate that your ovaries are starting to fail. When estradiol levels are below 30, it may signal that you are in menopause.
However, the most important test used to diagnose premature menopause is a blood test that measures follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH causes your ovaries to produce estrogen. When your ovaries slow down their production of estrogen, your levels of FSH increase. When your FSH levels rise above 40 mIU/mL, it usually indicates that you are in menopause.