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What Causes Early Menopause?

written by: K. A. Arbuckle • edited by: lrohner • updated: 10/13/2010

Premature menopause affects about 1 percent of women and . Knowing the causes of early menopause can help health care providers with treatment plans for women suffering from the condition.

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    Early menopause, also known as premature menopause, premature ovarian failure or primary ovarian insufficiency, occurs in women under the age of 40. Menopause normally doesn’t happen until around 50 years of age. Premature menopause can be identified by a lack ovarian function and menstruation. All of the causes of early menopause are not fully understood, reports the National Institutes of Health.

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    Premature Ovarian Failure

    Premature ovarian failure has an average onset age of 27. Although it causes menopause-like symptoms, ovulation may still occur infrequently. The condition affects roughly 250,000 women in the United States and usually causes infertility. While infertility treatments cannot correct the condition, hormones may be given to help with symptoms and to prevent osteoporosis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Early menopause doesn't have a cure or treatment to reverse the condition. The risk factor for developing premature ovarian failure increases with age. For example, it affects one on 1,000 women at the age of 30, but occurs in one in 100 by 40 years of age.

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    Symptoms

    The symptoms can vary but usually include a combination of the following:

    • Infertility
    • Vaginal dryness
    • Irregular menstruation or skipped periods
    • Hot Flashes
    • Night Sweats
    • Painful intercourse
    • Decreased sexual drive
    • Irritability
    • Difficulty concentrating

    A combination of these symptoms should prompt an appointment with your health care provider. The doctor will likely order several tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possibilities, such as pregnancy. The tests will measure the level of follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. Both hormones play a role in normal ovulation and menstrual cycles.

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    Causes

    The main known causes of early menopause occur because of the follicles in the ovaries. The follicles are sacs filled with fluid that hold the eggs. When they receive specific hormonal messages, they cause an egg to mature and release. In women with premature ovarian failure, the cause could be follicle depletion or follicle dysfunction. The depletion of responsive follicles means that they no longer react to the hormones telling them to release eggs.

    Follicle dysfunction happens when the follicles don't react as they should when they receive the messages. The primary causes of follicle depletion include chromosomal defects, which affect approximately 3 percent of women with the condition, and exposure to toxins, such as cigarette smoke and pesticides. Follicle dysfunction can occur due to an autoimmune issue or the lack of sufficient numbers of follicles. An autoimmune cause affects about 5 percent of women, while insufficient number of follicles may occur in up to 60 percent of cases of premature menopause. In addition, there could be a genetic link. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of women with the condition have a family history of it.

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    References

    MayoClinic.com: Premature Ovarian Failure

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/premature-ovarian-failure/DS00843

    Mayo Clinic: Managing Early-Onset Menopause

    http://www.mayoclinic.org/news2007-mchi/3908.html

    National Institutes of health: Do I Have Premature Ovarian Failure?

    http://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/pof/sub1.cfm#differently