Menopause is a stage in life when you no longer can get pregnant. The average woman or person assigned female at birth (AFAB) goes through natural menopause in their early 50s. Premature menopause happens to women and people AFAB before age 40 and early menopause happens before age 45. The symptoms for these conditions are similar to natural menopause and the causes are often unknown.
Premature menopause and early menopause are conditions where a woman or person assigned female at birth (AFAB) goes through menopause at an earlier age than is typically expected. Menopause is the point in a person’s life when their menstrual periods end. Natural menopause typically happens around age 51. Once you’ve gone 12 straight months without a period, you’ve gone through menopause.
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The difference between premature menopause and early menopause is when it happens. Menopause isn’t a process, rather it’s a point in time where menstruation ends.
Premature menopause isn’t the same as premature ovarian failure, although some people use the terms interchangeably. Healthcare providers now refer to premature ovarian failure as primary ovarian insufficiency (POI).
POI is a condition where your periods stop suddenly and spontaneously, either early or prematurely. POI isn’t the same as premature or early menopause, because with POI, there’s a chance your period will come back. People with POI may still ovulate, menstruate or become pregnant. With early or premature menopause, you don’t ovulate or menstruate, and you lose the ability to get pregnant.
Menopause can happen when a person is in their 20s, 30s or 40s. Premature menopause describes menopause that occurs any time before age 40. It’s rare for menopause to happen before age 30.
Yes, starting menopause around age 35 is premature menopause.
Early menopause (menopause before 45) occurs in about 5% of women or people AFAB. Premature menopause (menopause before 40) happens in about 1% of people AFAB. It’s rare to experience menopause in your 20s. This happens in about 0.1% of people AFAB.
Many of the causes of premature menopause can also be causes of early menopause. Some of these reasons include cancer treatment, surgery or certain health conditions. But, sometimes, the cause is unknown. Anything that damages your ovaries or stops your body from making estrogen can cause menopause. Early and premature menopause also share many of the same symptoms as menopause.
Some causes of early or premature menopause are:
Sometimes there’s no cause of early or premature menopause. This is the case in up to 50% of people.
You may start having irregular menstrual cycles for a few years prior to your last menstrual period. Longer or shorter menstrual cycles, spotting between periods or changes in vaginal bleeding are often some of the first signs of menopause. If you experience irregular periods, speak with a healthcare provider to look into possible causes.
The other signs of premature and early menopause include many of the typical menopause symptoms. You may experience:
Stress from your daily activities, work or other life events isn’t a reason you’ll go into early or premature menopause. If you feel stress that interferes with your daily life or happiness, talk to a healthcare provider about your symptoms. They can offer tips to help you manage your stress.
If you begin to have symptoms of menopause before age 45, your healthcare provider may perform several tests and ask questions to help diagnose premature or early menopause. Diagnosing early or premature menopause can include:
People who haven’t had a menstrual period for 12 straight months, and aren’t on any medication that could stop menstruation, may have reached menopause.
Treatment for early or premature menopause may vary depending on why menopause started earlier than normal. Given the health risks associated with early menopause, providers recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT), unless there’s a reason hormone therapy is unsafe (like if you’ve had breast cancer).
HRT replaces some of the lost hormones in your body. This helps reduce the symptoms and side effects of menopause, and decreases your risk of health conditions caused by early or premature menopause. Providers typically prescribe HRT until a person turns 51 years old (the time when most people reach menopause).
It’s important to discuss the pros and cons of hormone therapy with your provider. If you have infertility as a result of early or premature menopause, discuss your options with a fertility specialist, who can help you achieve your goal of becoming a parent.
You can’t reverse menopause or make your ovaries function normally again. However, your provider can help reduce the symptoms and side effects of menopause. In the case of primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), there’s a small possibility you’ll regain ovarian function.
Most causes of early menopause are beyond your control. Smoking cigarettes is the only lifestyle factor that may cause early menopause. You can reduce your risk of menopause by quitting smoking. The other causes of menopause like health conditions, surgeries or treatment for cancer are unpreventable in most cases.
People who go through menopause early tend to have more severe symptoms of menopause. These symptoms can lead to sexual dysfunction or loss of intimacy.
Additionally, people who experience premature or early menopause spend more years without the benefits of estrogen. Without typical amounts of estrogen, you’re at greater risk for certain health conditions like:
Both early and premature menopause affect your ability to get pregnant because you’re not ovulating. However, unless you’ve gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, you can still get pregnant. This is because in the years leading up to your final period, or if you have POI, there’s a chance ovulation (releasing an egg) still happens. If getting pregnant or having children is important to you, work with a fertility specialist to explore your options.
It’s possible to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization (IVF) after menopause. You can use eggs from a donor or your own eggs (if you froze your eggs prior to menopause). Any eggs that are left after menopause typically aren’t viable. Surrogacy and adoption are also options.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Premature and early menopause describe menopause that happens before it’s expected. Most women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) reach menopause around age 51. With premature menopause, this happens before age 40. Early menopause is reaching menopause before age 45. Talk to a healthcare provider if you’re under 45 and have signs of menopause like irregular periods, spotting between periods, hot flashes or vaginal dryness. Your provider can order blood work and discuss your health history to help diagnose these conditions. Treatment is available to give you relief from unpleasant symptoms of menopause.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/06/2022.
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