Rachel Browne, Jill Stark
July 17, 2011
HOT flushes, night sweats, mood swings and the end of a woman’s natural fertility – all before age 40. This is the disturbing reality of premature menopause, and a new study shows it may be much more common than doctors realised.
A British study of almost 5000 women, one of the most comprehensive yet into premature menopause, showed that 7.4 per cent of women experienced the condition. Previous international studies suggested only 1 per cent of women were affected.
The average age of menopause is about 51 but premature menopause, or premature ovarian failure, affects women under 40, in what is supposed to be their reproductive prime. The figures have intrigued medical experts. They are unable to say whether the condition is becoming more common – perhaps a result of modern lifestyles – or has previously been under-diagnosed.
The data, presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Stockholm, reveal that about 6 per cent of women in the study had unexplained premature menopause. Another 1.4 per cent had had surgery that had brought on the condition.
A co-author of the study, Rumana Islam, from Imperial College in London, said more research was needed into the condition.
In cases of unexplained premature menopause, the study found that smokers and women from a lower socio-economic background were more likely to be affected.
”Most cases of unexplained premature ovarian failure have no identified cause, although a minority are due to genetic or auto-immune problems,” Dr Islam said, adding: ”As we learn more about premature ovarian failure, we should be able to identify which aspects of low socio-economic status are associated with this problem.”
Many women with premature menopause go undiagnosed, as the condition is not widely recognised by GPs.
As well as experiencing symptoms such as hot flushes, mood swings and sleep problems, women who go through premature menopause have an increased risk of cardio-vascular disease, dementia, osteoporosis and premature death.