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Early Perimenopause

Q: I'm only 37 years old, but I'm already experiencing all the classic symptoms of menopause: hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and fatigue. My doctor says I'm young enough to qualify for "early menopause," but that otherwise I'm perfectly healthy. Still, I'm nervous. What does this mean for my health in the long run?

Dr. Donnica:
All you have to do to "qualify" for premature menopause is to have menopausal symptoms before the age of 40 years old and not have had a period for a year! If you're still menstruating but have the symptoms you've described, you are more likely to be experiencing "perimenopause," a condition that precedes menopause by up to 10 years!

While the average age of menopause in American women is 51, many women enter menopause much earlier. If your symptoms are bothersome, your doctor should make sure they're not being caused by another condition (thyroid problems, for example) and she/he should discuss treatment options with you. This will depend upon which symptoms are the worst, your other medical history, and your preferences. One option might be to use low-dose birth control pills, so long as you're not a smoker and don't have any other contraindications. Another option may be anti-depressant therapy, even though you're not depressed.

The good news is that perimenopausal symptoms themselves don't have any known impact on your health in the long run, so long as the symptoms themselves don't lead to any negative consequences (for example, don't drive if you're sleep deprived). If you are truly in early menopause, this could have long-term negative effects on your bones and cardiovascular system; if this is the case, you must discuss this with your physician.

For more information about menopause, click here.

Created: 12/27/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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