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Early Menopause

Medically reviewed by Norbert Gleicher, MD, FACOG, FACS - Written by CHR Staff - Updated on Jan 17, 2017

What Is Early Menopause?

The average age at which women typically experience menopause is around age 51. Early menopause, also referred to as premature menopause, premature ovarian failure (POF) and primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), occurs when a woman experiences menopause prior to turning age 40. It can occur as a result of genetic abnormalities that affect the ovaries, with family history playing a role; certain medical conditions can also cause early menopause.

Early Menopause and Premature Ovarian Aging

Dr. Gleicher explains the difference between early menopause and premature ovarian aging, as well as how each is treated.

Between 10 and 20% of women who experience early menopause have a family history of early menopause. In many other cases, it is the result of a health condition. For example, early menopause is highly associated with thyroid disease, or surgical removal of ovaries. Women who have undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatments may also experience early menopause.

At CHR, early menopause has been a major focus of research and clinical care. Early menopause is the end stage of usually a lengthy process of early premature ovarian aging (POA), a condition where a woman’s ovarian reserve depletes much earlier than is normal. Our preference, of course, is to see patients before they have reached the end stage, which is POF, because at an earlier POA stage we can still be successful with fertility treatments for women moving toward early menopause. The secret of diagnosing POA early enough is the recognition that even a relatively young woman can have diminished ovarian reserve(DOR) for her specific age group!

Causes

There are several major known causes of early menopause. The table below lists them by type of causes:

Type of CausesCause
POF
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Chromosomal abnormality of the X chromosome, like FMR1 premutation range genotype and Turner Syndrome
Surgical Causes
  • Oophorectomy (surgeries that completely remove ovaries)
  • Surgical damages to the ovaries
Other therapeutic (iatrogenic) causes
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Medications used for estrogen-sensitive cancers
Other
  • There is some evidence that women with a family history of early menopause experience early menopause themselves.
  • Viral infections during fetal development that affect ovarian development.

Norbert Gleicher, MD, FACOG, FACS

Norbert Gleicher, MD, leads CHR’s clinical and research efforts as Medical Director and Chief Scientist. A world-renowned specialist in reproductive endocrinology, Dr. Gleicher has published hundreds of peer-reviewed papers and lectured globally while keeping an active clinical career focused on ovarian aging, immunological issues and other difficult cases of infertility.

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