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Menopause Causes

Menopause is usually a normal aspect of aging, but there are some medical conditions that can cause the end of the end menstrual cycle.

Menopause is the gradual decrease in hormonal production. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Menopause is the gradual decrease in hormonal production.

Ovarian failure is one of the main menopause causes, which leads into the time in a woman's life when menstruation stops. While it may sound scary or threatening, ovarian failure is actually a normal part of aging. As a woman's body ages, the ovaries lose their ability to produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which control menstruation.

This gradual decrease in hormonal production often takes several years, and is commonly known as perimenopause. Menopause is considered completed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months and there is no other medical reason for the cessation of her menstruation.

According to the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, most American women go through menopause between the ages of 42 and 51. Menopause before the age of 40 is known as premature, or early, menopause.

Medical Conditions that Cause Premature Menopause

A number of health conditions can cause premature menopause. Women who experience missed periods for no known medical reason should see a doctor to rule out pregnancy and other medical conditions that can cause the menstrual cycle to stop.

Premature menopause is also known as premature ovarian failure or primary ovarian insufficiency. The follicles in the ovaries are responsible for producing the hormones associated with menstruation. Most women have enough follicles to last until menopause, but this may not always be the case. These women may have a follicle deficiency or the follicles in their ovaries may not be functioning properly. Early menopause is sometimes caused by autoimmune disorders such as thyroid disease, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

The US Department of Health and Human Services says chromosome defects are another cause of premature menopause. A common example of this is Turner's syndrome. Women with this defect are either born with only one X chromosome, or the second X chromosome is incomplete. As a result, the ovaries do not form normally and premature menopause occurs.

Cancer chemotherapy and pelvic radiation treatment can cause ovarian damage. Women may stop menstruation, have reproduction difficulty or become infertile. This can happen quickly or take several months to occur.

Surgical removal of the ovaries, also known as a bilateral oophorectomy, causes an abrupt menopause, often with more severe menopausal symptoms. In most cases, bilateral oophorectomy is performed when ecancer is present in the cervix, uterus or ovaries. However, it is also sometimes used to treat other non-cancerous conditions such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis and infections. Other surgeries which might also include the removal of the ovaries are hysterectomy, abdominal resection and total pelvic exenteration.

Women who have a hysterectomy to remove their uterus, but leave their ovaries in place will not experience an abrupt menopause because the ovaries are still producing hormones. However, since the uterus is removed they will no longer have menstrual periods. This type of hysterectomy often causes the onset of menopause a few years earlier than expected.

Other Causes of Early Menopause

The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) says women who smoke go through menopause, on average, two years earlier than non-smokers do. A study conducted by BMC Public Health found the connection between active smoking and early menopause also to be true. They further went on to conclude that quitting smoking prior to the age of menopause appears to protect against early menopause.

There is also a limited amount of evidence from other studies that suggest a woman may experience early menopause if she never delivered a child, has a history of heart disease, has been medically treated for epilepsy or depression, has had pelvic surgery or was exposed to toxic chemicals. No correlations have been found between early menopause and race, age at onset of first period or the use of birth control pills.

Genetics is another common cause of premature menopause. Women with a family history of early menopause are more likely to experience early menopause themselves.

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