By: Fauzia Haque, Contributing Writer
Periods and menstruation are one of the driving factors of determining the physical health of a woman, especially in her teenage years. Irregular periods can indicate reproductive health issues and further internal issues. However, in some rare circumstances, young girls can develop premature menopause known as primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) that dictates ovarian failure as early as eleven years old. Menopause occurs when ovulation has ended and the monthly period cycle has ceased. Premature menopause means that a woman’s ovaries have stopped functioning before they have turned 40 years old, and early menopause is marked at its occurrence from ages 41 to 45. Menopause typically occurs around the ages of 45 to 55 with the average woman experiencing menopause at 51.
Almost one in every one thousand women face premature or early menopause before they turn 40 years old. Primary ovarian failure tends to bring about the same symptoms that menopause does with irregular menstrual patterns, hot flashes, increased perspiration, and sleep irregularities. Other symptoms include urinary issues, vaginal dryness or irritation, intensified mood changes, severe fluctuations in weight, and different sensations of pain and soreness. The reason why POI occurs in adolescents is still being heavily researched today as its primary cause still remains unknown. In at least 60% of premature menopause diagnosis, they are left as idiopathic with no clear cut cause. Autoimmune conditions, such as hypothyroidism, Crohn’s syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause premature menopause as 10-30% of those affected tend to have one. Similarly, there has been research proposed that suggests there could also be a genetic link for premature menopause with 5-30% of the women affected having a linked genetic conditions, such as Turner’s syndrome or congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
Premature menopause can also be triggered or induced by an early age due to different treatments. Ovarian cancer surgery can induce early menopause due to the removal of the ovaries. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy can also inflict early menopause as these treatments tend to be cytotoxic, meaning that they are harmful to the living cells in the body. Amenorrhea (the absence of periods) is one of the primary indications for menopause when attempting to diagnose it, but doctors do need to run more tests in order to ensure that the symptom is not alluding to another disease or disorder.
With no treatments available, premature menopause can expose the patients to other diseases as their body becomes more susceptible and has a weaker defense than usual. Long postmenopausal lifetimes can increase chances towards cardiovascular diseases and bone-related illnesses, such as osteoporosis. Due to these enhanced risks, most doctors recommend hormone therapy either through hormone included pills or through menopausal hormone therapy.
An unspoken consequence that most people do not acknowledge when it comes to premature menopause, especially in young adults, is the heavy emotional toll it takes over the mind and body of a young woman. Self-esteem issues arise where it gets hard to imagine people looking at them without silently judging them first, especially by medical professionals that are still plagued by the questionability of premature menopause. An interview completed by PositivePause follows through with a 40 year old woman, Hayley Cockman, who had been diagnosed with premature menopause at a mere age of 14. She details her emotional journey of isolation and confidence issues throughout her medical experiences as she states, “I felt medical professionals looked at me like I was some sort of freak.” Hayley Cockman describes how grueling her experience with premature menopause was as she picks apart how isolated she felt all because of a lack of awareness of this condition. Premature menopause can affect mental health severely as it can induce intense grief of not being able to have biological children, create irrational fears of growing older faster than one should, and increases the concern within an adolescent that someone will not find her romantically charming in the future.
All of these insecurities result in mental health problems that can severely affect other parts of the body as well. It’s important to recognize if there is an issue with either one’s physical health or mental health and get it treated right away. With Hayley Cockman’s recount and many other young women’s recounts, premature menopause is a condition that should be recognized more often. There is no clear time as to when a woman is supposed to undergo bodily changes like menopause and there should be no judgment of a natural, uncontrollable predicament. If any of these symptoms or predicaments sound familiar, it’s best to get checked out by a doctor or gynecologist to see if menopause is the true culprit.
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