When Menopause Happens in Your 20s, 30s or 40s

by WV Marshall

The onset of menopause typically occurs when women are in their early 50s. Sometimes it occurs when women are in their 40s. But on that rare occasion, it can affect teenagers who may not even be old enough to drive.

**Menopause, when it occurs before age 40 – no matter how young a woman is – is known as premature menopause. **

The American Pregnancy Association reports that roughly one in every 1,000 women between 15-29 years, one in every 100 women ages 30-39 are affected by premature ovarian failure, also called premature menopause.

“Premature ovarian failure is the loss of ovarian function in women under the age of 40. Women with POF do not ovulate (release an egg) each month,” the association said on its website. “This loss of function can be due to a less than normal amount of follicles or a dysfunction in the ovaries.”

A woman can be affected by premature ovarian failure at any age; before or after she has had children or while she’s planning her family, APA said.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes the National Institutes of Health advocates the term “primary ovarian insufficiency” is preferred over “premature menopause” or “primary ovarian failure” because ovarian function is intermittent or unpredictable in many cases.

While premature ovarian failure is sometimes referred to as premature menopause, the two conditions aren’t the same, the Mayo Clinic said. Women experiencing premature ovarian failure can have irregular periods for years and might even conceive. Women with premature menopause don’t and can’t.

Between 5 percent and 10 percent of women with primary ovarian insufficiency “experience spontaneous conception and delivery,” ACOG said.

Symptoms for primary ovarian insufficiency include hot flashes/flushes, mood swings, irregular or missed periods and vaginal dryness, among other symptoms associated with natural menopause. But … The difference between premature menopause and menopause is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. (Apologies to Mark Twain.)

When a woman undergoes menopause, she no longer has follicles to produce into eggs so she no longer has a menstrual period.

A woman with primary ovarian insufficiency (or premature ovarian failure, or premature menopause) may still have ovarian but they may be depleted or there is a dysfunction of these follicles, APA said.

**She can still get her period, but most of the time her period is irregular. APA notes that while irregular periods are one of the signals for premature menopause, they could be caused by something else. **

The organization recommends discussing menstrual cycle irregularity with your healthcare provider.

For most women the cause of premature menopause is a question mark, APA said. However, there are some causes that may be identified, including an autoimmune disorder, genetics, thyroid dysfunction, the completion of cancer treatment with radiation or chemotherapy, or a hysterectomy involving the removal of both ovaries.