The years leading up to menopause are called perimenopause. During this phase of a woman’s life, she may experience hot flashes and irregular monthly periods. Once a woman has stopped menstruating for at least twelve consecutive months and her ovaries have stopped releasing eggs, she is said to be in menopause. The perimenopause cycle begins at varying ages, but most women show some signs of menopause by age fifty. However, due to genetics and medical complications, some women begin this life stage earlier than average. A woman who begins to have symptoms of menopause before the age of forty is said to be pre-menopausal. There are some long-term health effects that early menopause may cause.
When a woman goes through menopause, her body produces fewer hormones. This results in a loss of bone mass, too. Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones. Weakened bones raise the risk of fracturing a bone. Menopause leads to bones that gradually lose density as a woman ages. Early menopause extends the period of bone loss. Say, for instance, that a woman begins menopause in her thirties. By the time she is in her sixties, her bones could be relatively weak and be more susceptible to fracture than the bones of a woman who goes through menopause later in life.
One common problem in women who go through menopause early is infertility. Because so many women are focused on establishing a career and pursuing higher education, they are now opting to marry and start a family at a later age than in previous generations. Women are now choosing to wait until their 30s and 40s to have children. However, when a woman goes through perimenopause, her ovulation cycle becomes irregular. Thus, the difficulty in producing fertile eggs makes pregnancy more difficult for these pre-menopausal women. This could result in a woman’s being unable to carry a child at all. It could also lead to costly surgical procedures for women who request the help of a fertility doctor to become pregnant.
Some women experience menopausal symptoms so severe that they receive hormone therapy to relieve their symptoms. Clinical studies have shown that a combination pill comprising of estrogen and progesterone can lessen the severity of symptoms. However, the side effects of these hormones can cause health risks to women, including the following:
- Blood clots
- Breast cancer
- Heart disease
The risk of developing the above conditions varies depending on several factors, including age. For instance, if a woman begins hormone therapy more than a decade before the start of full menopause, she is said to be at a greater risk of the above illnesses. Thus, hormone therapy could pose health risks to early menopausal women who start it before the onset of full menopause.
Depending on the severity of a woman’s menopausal symptoms, a physician may or may not recommend hormone therapy. Hormones should not be taken unless overseen by a healthcare professional.
Increased Cardiovascular Disease
A recent study showed that the risk of cardiovascular disease increases in women who have experienced premature menopause. Scientists are currently researching the link between pre-menopause and coronary artery disease, which can lead to a greater likelihood of having a stroke.
The health effects of perimenopause can be minor, such as a few sporadic hot flashes. However, some women experience symptoms that are quite debilitating. Heavy bleeding should be treated by a physician, and women who wish to try hormone-replacement therapy should do so under a doctor’s care. Women who wish to become pregnant during perimenopause should also consult with a doctor.