When she was 26, Lara Dietz learned she had breast cancer -- a shock to this mother of two very young children. Then came the second blow. When treatment began, so did premature menopause. "I was having hot flashes," she says. "I felt like I was 55 years old."
When menopause occurs between ages 45 to 55, it is considered "natural." When it occurs before age 40 -- regardless the cause -- it is called premature menopause. The ovaries no longer produce an egg each month, so monthly menstrual cycles...
is the process of change that leads up to menopause. It can start as early as
your late 30s or as late as your early 50s. How long perimenopause lasts
varies, but it usually lasts from 2 to 8 years. You may have irregular periods
or other symptoms during this time.
Menopause is a natural part of
growing older. You don't need treatment for it unless your symptoms bother you.
But it's a good idea to learn all you can about menopause. Knowing what to
expect can help you stay as healthy as possible during this new phase of your
What causes menopause?
Normal changes in your
reproductive and hormone systems cause menopause. As your egg supply ages, your
body begins to
ovulate less often. During this time, your
hormone levels go up and down unevenly (fluctuate),
causing changes in your periods and other symptoms. In time,
progesterone levels drop enough that the menstrual
Some medical treatments can cause your periods to
stop before age 40. Having your ovaries removed,
radiation therapy, or
chemotherapy can trigger early menopause.
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms include:
Irregular periods. Some women have light
periods. Others have heavy bleeding. Your menstrual cycle may be longer or
shorter, or you may skip periods.
Some women have only a few mild symptoms. Others have
severe symptoms that disrupt their sleep and daily lives.
Symptoms tend to last or get worse the first year or more after
menopause. Over time, hormones even out at low levels, and many symptoms
improve or go away. Then you can enjoy being free from periods and birth
Do you need tests to diagnose menopause?
need to be tested to see if you have started perimenopause or reached
menopause. You and your doctor will most likely be able to tell based on
irregular periods and other symptoms.
If you have heavy,
irregular periods, your doctor may want to do tests to rule out a serious cause
of the bleeding. Heavy bleeding may be a normal sign of perimenopause. But it
can also be caused by infection, disease, or a pregnancy problem.