At some point, usually around the age of 50, your ovaries produce fewer hormones, your periods end, and you’re in menopause. For some people, menopause can happen earlier than that. A 2013 study published in Annals of medical and health sciences research found that around 1% of women experience early menopause, and there isn’t a lot of awareness for it. Women who’ve gone through premature menopause tell Bustle that it can be a very emotional and complex experience. It can also be intertwined with medical issues and concerns about femininity and sexuality.
Dr. Felice Gersh M.D., an OB/GYN, tells Bustle that premature menopause can happen as a consequence of chemotherapy, hysterectomies, and other medical treatments. It can also have a genetic component; if your mom went through menopause early, it’s more likely that you will too. (According to the Office of Women’s Health, premature menopause is technically when you go through it before the age of 40; early menopause refers to going through it between 40 and 45, but the two are sometimes used interchangeably.) It’s also more common in people with high levels of stress and those who work night shifts, though research hasn’t uncovered why this might be.
For Wendy, 38, premature menopause came as a result of cancer treatment. “I was 36 when I was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer that is very aggressive,” she tells Bustle. “When I underwent chemotherapy, it began the process of early menopause. My periods ended and I haven’t had one since.”