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Diseases & Conditions > Menopause

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7 Surprising Early Menopause Symptoms

Sheryl Kraft

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When we think about a woman in menopause, we typically think about one who is in midlife. Indeed, in the United States, the average age of menopause is 52.

“I’m too young to be going through menopause!” many women will say, surprised that their periods are changing and eventually stop altogether. But sometimes, menopause happens at an earlier age than normal – as early as in your 30s or 40s.

Known as premature or early menopause, it can happen naturally with no clear reason in about five percent of women. Other causes include genetics (having a family history), certain medical conditions (some autoimmune diseases like thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis), smoking, chemotherapy or pelvic radiation, or surgery to remove your uterus or ovaries.

Menopause is when you’ve been without a period for 12 consecutive months, but it doesn’t happen all at once. The transition can take several years, during which time your symptoms may fall under your radar. Although two of the most common signs associated with menopause are night sweats and hot flashes, you may be surprised at these not-so-obvious ones.

  • Vaginal problems. As levels of estrogen drop, you may experience more vaginal problems than you usually do. Changes in the vagina’s acid balance can make vaginal or bladder infections (UTIs) more likely. Or you may find that suddenly, you have to urinate more often or need to run to the bathroom quickly, lest you leak urine, which can burn on its way out. For some, exercising, sneezing or laughing can cause bladder leakage.
  • Painful sex. A less lubricated and drier vagina can render sexual intercourse uncomfortable or downright painful. It may even cause small tears or cuts, making you more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs or STIs).
  • Tossing and turning. You can’t nod off easily. You fall asleep but can’t stay asleep. If you stay asleep, you wake up way too early. Because the balance of estrogen and  progesterone is shifting -  and progesterone is a sleep-promoting hormone - there you have it: Sleep problems.
  • Mood swings. Irritable? Sad? Anxious? Trouble concentrating? Check. If you remember PMS, it’ll all seem too familiar. The culprit, again, is unpredictable hormone fluctuations. And if you’ve had PMS when you were younger, or have a history of clinical depression, you may be more vulnerable now.
  • Weight gain. You’re not eating more than you normally do, and you’re exercising plenty. Then why are you gaining weight? Blame estrogen, which plays a big role in regulating body weight. Lower estrogen levels can lower your once-peppy metabolism and make your waist get larger, to boot. But don’t throw in the towel: Exercise can prevent weight gain during this period, say experts.
  • Changing periods. As your body prepares to transition to menopause, periods can come more – or less – often. Or, they may be heavier or lighter than normal.
  • Aches and pains. Although experts don’t know if achy and stiff muscles and joints are directly tied into changing hormone levels or just plain aging (or both), they could be related to menopause, they say. So could things like headaches and heart palpitations.

If you think you may be experiencing early menopause symptoms, talk to a health care professional.

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