Risk factors of menopause

If you’re a woman, menopause is inevitable – unless your ovaries were removed before puberty. For this reason, there are no “risk factors” associated with normal, natural menopause. It’s part of the normal cycle of life.

Some risk factors have, however, been identified for premature ovarian failure (POF), which is also sometimes referred to as “premature menopause”.

Note, however, that POF and premature menopause are not entirely the same. With premature menopause, your periods stop before the age of 40; with POF, you may still have occasional periods, even though your ovaries are no longer functioning properly.

Risk factors for POF include:

  • Certain genetic disorders (e.g. Turner syndrome)
  • Certain auto-immune diseases (e.g. Addison’s disease, thyroiditis)
  • Chemotherapy and radiotherapy (used to treat cancer)
  • Exposure to toxins (e.g. cigarette smoke, pollution, chemicals)

Of course, menopause comes with a number of health risks, including an increased risk for heart disease, osteoporosis and stroke. In the years preceding menopause, oestrogen helps to keep your blood vessels supple, your cholesterol levels down and your blood pressure in check, while maintaining healthy bones. As your oestrogen levels drop, these protective benefits diminish.

Changes in hormone levels can also lead to changes in body fat distribution and skin elasticity.

Reviewed and updated by Dr Carol Thomas MBChB (UCT) FCOG (SA) MMed (O&G) (UCT), specialist gynaecologist in private practice, Cape Town, President of the South African Menopause Society and Director of the WomanSpace and iMobiMaMa. March 2017.

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