Menopause before the age of 45 is called early menopause. Menopause before the age of 40 is called premature menopause.
A spontaneous (natural) early menopause affects approximately 5% of the population before the age of 45.
Premature menopause, or premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), is defined as being menopause that happens before the age of 40.
Premature menopause is estimated to affect 1% of women under the age of 40 years and 0.1% of women under the age of 30 years.
Premature menopause is different to menopause which occurs at around the average age (45-55 years), as premature menopause means that the ovaries aren’t working properly. They stop producing eggs years before they normally would.
Causes of early and premature menopause
Women can experience early or premature menopause for lots of different reasons including certain surgeries or cancer treatments.
In 90% of women who experience premature menopause, the reason will be unknown.
Further information about the causes of premature menopause
Signs and symptoms of early and premature menopause
The symptoms of premature menopause are the same as perimenopause.
When to see your GP
You should speak to your GP if you know you are not pregnant and your periods have stopped or have been coming less often (for around 4-6 months).
Your GP can carry out a blood test to measure your hormone levels.
It can take a long time for a diagnosis of premature menopause to be made as symptoms could be due to other conditions. Your blood test can rule out diabetes and thyroid problems.
Management of early and premature menopause
Having an early or premature menopause can increase the risk of osteoporosis (weak bones) and cardiovascular (heart) disease. It is believed that HRT can reduce these risks, as well as controlling menopausal symptoms.
The current recommendation is that women experiencing an early or premature menopause should be offered hormonal therapy, unless there is a medical reason not to take it, and should continue until at least the average age of the menopause. By doing this, the hormones that would usually have been produced are being replaced.
Early and premature menopause and fertility
Early and premature menopause can affect your ability to have children naturally.
Women experiencing early or premature menopause do not ovulate (release an egg) every month. This makes it difficult to get pregnant.
If you want to have children, you might choose to use IVF and donated eggs from another woman, or using your own eggs if you had some stored. Surrogacy and adoption may also be options for you.
Studies have shown that a small percentage of women (5-10%) experiencing premature menopause (where the cause is unknown) do sometimes ovulate and become pregnant.
If you don't wish to become pregnant you should continue to use contraception.
Further information about early and premature menopause and fertility
Support for early and premature menopause
There is support available for women who experience early or premature menopause. You can visit Menopause Cafes, online forums, social media groups or support websites to hear from women with similar experiences.
Some websites you may find useful are: