Menopause refers to your last or final period. It means the ovaries no longer produce eggs, making pregnancy impossible. For most women, menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. The average age for women to experience menopause in Australia is 51.
When a woman has her last period between the ages of 40 and 45, it is called early menopause. Early menopause affects about one in eight women.
For many women, there is no known cause of early menopause. However, smoking, earlier age when starting menstrual periods or a family history of early menopause are linked to early menopause.
Known causes of early menopause include surgical removal of the ovaries to treat a medical condition. Some medical treatments such as chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy can also cause early menopause.
There is no evidence that early menopause is caused by oral contraceptives, such as the pill, fertility drugs or artificial hormones in the environment.
Some women who experience early menopause use fertility treatment and donor eggs to try for a baby. You can read more about finding an egg donor and fertility treatment here.
Medical treatment called menopausal hormone therapy (MRT) can also reduce the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. Learn more about early menopause here.
Premature ovarian insufficiency/ Premature menopause
When a woman has her last period or loses ovarian function before the age of 40, it is called premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) or premature menopause. This affects about one in 25 women.
Symptoms include an irregular menstrual cycle, no menstrual period for several months, and signs of menopause such as feeling hot, night sweats, irritability, and low mood. A blood test is needed for diagnosis. In most cases, the cause is unknown, but some medical treatments can cause POI, such as chemotherapy.
POI is different to menopause occurring at the normal expected age because there is a small possibility that ovarian function spontaneously resumes, making pregnancy possible. This does not happen after expected menopause. Spontaneous pregnancy occurs for about one in 50 women diagnosed with POI.
Some women who experience POI use fertility treatment and donor eggs to try for a baby. You can read more about fertility treatment here, and finding an egg donor here.
POI can also increase the risk of long-term health problems such as heart disease and osteoporosis, but options to reduce the risk are available. You can read more about POI here.