Some women have no symptoms except being unable to become pregnant, and others have the same symptoms as those of natural menopause (such as hot flashes or night sweats).
Blood tests can confirm the diagnosis, and other tests are done to identify the cause.
Various measures, including estrogen (typically taken until about age 51, when menopause occurs on average), can relieve or reduce symptoms.
To become pregnant, women with premature menopause can have eggs from another woman implanted in their uterus.
Hormonally, premature menopause resembles natural menopause Perimenopause symptoms Menopause is the permanent end of menstrual periods and thus of fertility. For up to several years before and just after menopause, estrogen levels fluctuate widely, periods become irregular... read more . The ovaries produce very little estrogen. Ovulation essentially stops. However, sometimes the ovaries start functioning for a short time and can release an egg, making pregnancy possible. The ovaries still contain thousands of eggs.
Causes of Premature Menopause
Premature menopause has many causes:
Genetic abnormalities: Chromosomes, including the sex chromosomes, may be abnormal. Sex chromosome abnormalities include Turner syndrome Turner Syndrome Turner syndrome is a sex chromosome abnormality in which girls are born with one of their two X chromosomes partially or completely missing. Turner syndrome is caused by the deletion of part... read more , disorders that confer a Y chromosome (which normally occurs only in males), and Fragile X syndrome Fragile X Syndrome Fragile X syndrome is a genetic abnormality on the X chromosome that leads to intellectual disability and behavior problems. Chromosomes are structures within cells that contain DNA and many... read more .
Autoimmune disorders: The body produces abnormal antibodies that attack the body’s tissues, including the ovaries. Examples are thyroiditis Hashimoto Thyroiditis Hashimoto thyroiditis is chronic, autoimmune inflammation of the thyroid. Hashimoto thyroiditis results when the body attacks the cells of the thyroid gland—an autoimmune reaction. At first... read more , vitiligo Vitiligo Vitiligo is a loss of melanocytes that causes patches of skin to turn white. Patches of whitened skin are present on various parts of the body. Doctors usually base the diagnosis on the appearance... read more , and myasthenia gravis Myasthenia Gravis Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disorder that impairs communication between nerves and muscles, resulting in episodes of muscle weakness. Myasthenia gravis results from malfunction of the... read more .
Metabolic disorders: Addison disease Adrenal Insufficiency In adrenal insufficiency, the adrenal glands do not produce enough adrenal hormones. Adrenal insufficiency may be caused by a disorder of the adrenal glands, a disorder of the pituitary gland... read more and diabetes Diabetes Mellitus (DM) Diabetes mellitus is a disorder in which the body does not produce enough or respond normally to insulin, causing blood sugar (glucose) levels to be abnormally high. Urination and thirst are... read more are examples.
Chemotherapy for cancer
Surgical removal of the ovaries: Surgery to remove both ovaries (bilateral oophorectomy) ends menstrual periods and causes menopause.
Surgical removal of the uterus: Surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy) ends menstrual periods but does not cause most of the other symptoms of menopause as long as the ovaries are functioning.
Toxins: Tobacco is an example.
Symptoms of Premature Menopause
Some women may have no symptoms, except that they cannot become pregnant. Other women develop the same symptoms that are associated with normal menopause (which occurs at about age 51), such as hot flashes, night sweats, or mood swings. Menstrual periods may become lighter or irregular, or they may stop.
The lack of estrogen may lead to decreased bone density ( osteoporosis Osteoporosis Osteoporosis is a condition in which a decrease in the density of bones weakens the bones, making breaks (fractures) likely. Aging, estrogen deficiency, low vitamin D or calcium intake, and... read more ) and thinning and drying of the lining of the vagina (vaginal atrophy). If women with premature menopause do not take estrogen therapy until they reach the average age for menopause (about age 51), the risk of mood disorders Overview of Mood Disorders Mood disorders are mental health disorders that involve emotional disturbances consisting of long periods of excessive sadness (depression), excessive joyousness or elation (mania), or both... read more , Parkinson disease Parkinson Disease (PD) Parkinson disease is a slowly progressive degenerative disorder of specific areas of the brain. It is characterized by tremor when muscles are at rest (resting tremor), increased muscle tone... read more , dementia Dementia Dementia is a slow, progressive decline in mental function including memory, thinking, judgment, and the ability to learn. Typically, symptoms include memory loss, problems using language and... read more , and coronary artery disease Overview of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) Coronary artery disease is a condition in which the blood supply to the heart muscle is partially or completely blocked. The heart muscle needs a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood. The coronary... read more is increased.
If the cause is a disorder that confers a Y chromosome, the risk of cancer of the ovaries is increased.
Women may have symptoms of the disorder causing premature menopause. For example, if Turner syndrome is the cause, they may be short and have a webbed neck and learning disabilities.
Diagnosis of Premature Menopause
A pregnancy test
Measurement of hormone levels
Additional tests to identify the cause
Sometimes genetic testing and chromosome analysis
Doctors suspect premature menopause when women younger than 40 have menopausal symptoms or cannot become pregnant.
A pregnancy test is done, and levels of estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone (which stimulates the ovaries to produce estrogen and progesterone) are measured weekly for several weeks to confirm the diagnosis of premature menopause.
Additional tests may be done to help doctors identify the cause of premature menopause and thus evaluate a woman’s health risks and recommend treatment for premature menopause. A blood test for antimüllerian hormone (which is produced in the ovaries) can be done to evaluate how well the ovaries are functioning and to estimate the chances that a woman will be able to become pregnant.
For women younger than 35, a chromosome analysis may be done. If a chromosomal abnormality is detected, additional procedures and treatment may be required.
Bone density may be measured to check for osteoporosis.
Treatment of Premature Menopause
Oral contraceptives or hormone therapy
If pregnancy is desired, in vitro fertilization
If women with premature menopause do not wish to become pregnant, they are given one of the following:
Birth control pills that contain estrogen and a progestin (combination oral contraceptives) taken for 21 to 24 days, with an inactive (placebo) tablet usually taken the other 4 to 7 days each month
Hormone therapy that contains a higher dose of estrogen, taken every day, and a progestin or progesterone, taken for 12 to 14 days each month (cyclical hormone therapy)
These treatments are typically taken until about age 51 (the average age for menopause). Then, doctors decide whether to continue the treatments based on the woman's individual circumstances.
Estrogen helps relieve symptoms and helps prevent other effects of menopause (such as vaginal dryness, and mood swings). The higher dose of estrogen in hormone therapy helps maintain bone density. Because taking estrogen alone increases the risk of cancer of the uterine lining (endometrial cancer), most women also take a progestin or progesterone with the estrogen to help protect against this cancer. Women who no longer have a uterus may take estrogen alone.
If women with premature menopause wish to become pregnant, doctors recommend in vitro (test tube) fertilization Assisted Reproductive Techniques Assisted reproductive techniques involve manipulating sperm and eggs or embryos in a laboratory (in vitro) with the goal of producing a pregnancy. (See also Overview of Infertility.) If treatment... read more . Another woman’s eggs (donor eggs) are implanted in the uterus after they have been fertilized in the laboratory. Estrogen and a progestin or progesterone are also given to enable the uterus to support the pregnancy. This technique gives women up to a 50% chance of becoming pregnant. Otherwise the chance of becoming pregnant is less than 10%. The age of the woman donating the eggs is more important than the age of the woman receiving them. Even without in vitro fertilization, some women with primary ovarian insufficiency become pregnant.
Women who have a Y chromosome need to have their ovaries removed to decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer. The ovaries can be removed using laparoscopy (use of a thin viewing tube inserted through a small incision just above or below the navel) or laparotomy, which involves a larger incision into the abdomen. Hormone therapy is usually also recommended for these women until they reach the average age of menopause or longer to prevent the effects of the lack of estrogen.