Menopause can be an unwelcome time in any woman’s life, but what happens when menopause comes early? If your ovaries decide to call it quits too soon, you could be dealing with a myriad of physical symptoms you thought would come much later in life. Early menopause can be a real game-changer and leave many women wondering how to handle these sudden changes.
Navigating early menopause
At true. Women’s Health, we are experienced in helping our patients navigate early menopause and educating them about the treatment options that are available. One of our best resources at true. is Susanne Pettigrew, Physician Assistant, who also has specialized training in cancer and can help those women who are experiencing premature menopause as a result of cancer treatment. Susanne and I are excited to share our thoughts about the challenges of early menopause here in this blog.
Susanne and I care so much about this topic because we see too many women in our office who are suffering in silence, and they don’t understand why their bodies are changing. There are safe options for women to feel better, no matter why menopause came early. Regardless of the reason, they deserve to know why they are feeling out of sorts and what they can do about it!
Before we talk about the options, let’s start with the basics of early (or premature) menopause. Premature menopause is defined as having menopause under age 40. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including surgical removal of both ovaries, cancer therapies, and other medical conditions such as chromosomal abnormalities and autoimmune diseases. Early menopause can even be spontaneous and have no known cause. How common is early menopause? Only 1 percent of women have premature menopause before age 40 and only 5 percent experience it before age 45. Although that may seem like a small percentage, if you are one of the women experiencing early menopause, it can be a difficult time in your life.
Early menopause often comes on suddenly (without much warning), and it’s unlikely many of your friends are going through it at the same time you are, so it can leave you feeling lonely. You may be experiencing the same symptoms as someone 15 or more years older than you. At true,. we use something called the Menopause Transition Scale™ (MTS) to track menopause symptoms, which can be especially helpful for women who are going through this change early.
The seven main symptoms:
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Decreased libido
- Weight issues
- Energy level changes
- Mood swings (possibly caused by sleep disruption)
- Vaginal dryness/bladder complaints
- Vaginal bleeding
Any one of these on its own can be challenging, but if you are also dealing with the stress of having cancer—in addition to everyday issues—it can be more than you can handle!
It’s also important to note that other health issues are more common when menopause occurs early. Loss of estrogen at a younger age increases risk for various health problems, including bone loss, heart disease risk, dementia, mood disorders, and sexual dysfunction. The good news is that you can prevent these issues from occurring if you get on top of things early and take charge before it’s too late. Fortunately, there is help for you!
How can I feel better?
So, what are your options for feeling better and lowering your chances of developing unwanted health issues? The number one treatment I tell my patients (before even discussing medications) is to live a healthy lifestyle and practice the SEEDS® every day. These daily habits impact your wellbeing and quality of life. In fact, we feel they’re so important that we created a SEEDS® e-book you can download.
In addition to the SEEDS®, there are medications that can help. The medication options vary depending on what caused menopause to come early. Because of the health risks associated with early menopause, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is generally recommended to all women, unless there is a compelling reason not to use it. HRT is the most effective treatment in alleviating symptoms as well as preventing the long-term effects of menopause. The timing for starting HRT is pivotal in reaping the benefits that this treatment offers. Starting HRT as close as possible to the onset of menopause helps to maximize its benefits.
Some women cannot use systemic (in their blood) hormone replacement, including those with a history of cancer that is stimulated by estrogen. An example of this is a woman who has invasive breast cancer. In these cases, we use non-hormonal options—there are many currently available and more being developed every day.
Another option for feeling better during early menopause is the use of medications called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Used at a low dose, medications like Lexapro and Gabapentin are known to help with mood changes and hot flashes/night sweats.
Sex & early menopause
If your menopause symptoms include mild vaginal dryness causing sexual pain, simple products like lubricants and moisturizers can be very effective in treating this condition.
Moderate to severe vaginal dryness, and pain with intercourse, often need more aggressive therapies. Many women can safely use low dose vaginal estrogen to help repair the tissue changes (thinning, dryness, loss of stretchiness) that low estrogen causes. Tools like the OhNut and the Milli dilator are other great options to help with painful intercourse.
A new and significant game changer in women’s health is the MonaLisa Touch laser therapy! The MonaLisa Touch® has proven to be very effective for vaginal dryness and painful sex. true. Women’s Health is the only certified menopause practitioner group in Grand Rapids that offers the MonaLisa Touch procedure, and we have helped many patients treat issues like vaginal dryness, pain, itching, painful sex, and urinary changes. It really is a game-changer for those women who cannot (or choose not to) use estrogen-containing treatments for vaginal symptoms. This can be especially relevant for younger women who go through menopause early and don’t want to fuss with the messiness of a vaginal cream or tablet. We are seeing quite impressive results from this therapy at our clinic, and women are expressing satisfaction from this simple therapy for a very distressing problem.
We hope we have given you some much-needed insight into early menopause, including several different options to help you feel better. At true. Women’s Health, we are excited to offer help—and hope—to our patients as they navigate the challenges of menopause coming early. In conclusion, we will leave you with some important tips for coping with early menopause and some questions to ask your healthcare professional if you think you are experiencing premature menopause.
Five tips for coping:
- Get accurate information about what phase of menopause you are in, why you are experiencing symptoms, and what your treatment options are.
- If menopause is occurring early, learn how this uniquely affects your overall health.
- Find a practitioner you can trust—someone who is knowledgeable about menopause, and who makes you comfortable discussing details of what you are going through. You can find a certified menopause practitioner at menopause.org.
- Do your SEEDS® daily—Drink plenty of water; eat healthy fats, complex carbs, and plant-based foods; get regular physical activity (optimally 150 minutes per week), and practice a mind-body connection (metered breathing and meditation).
- Get support from other women who are going through menopause. So many women suffer in silence—without support—and it doesn’t have to be that way!
Five things to ask your healthcare provider if you think you are starting early menopause:
- What phase of ovarian function am I in—reproductive, perimenopause, or menopause?
- Which symptoms can I expect?
- What health issues am I at increased risk for?
- How can I reduce bothersome menopause symptoms?
- How can I keep my bones strong and not get a hip fracture at 55? Not have an early heart attack? Is there testing that I need to get done to screen for this?