Menopause is something probably didn’t give much thought to earlier in your life. You may have been ambivalent about it, looked forward to it, or dreaded it, but generally speaking, it is unlikely it took up much mental space in your life.
When you find yourself being rudely plunged into menopause almost overnight however, it can feel not only like you’ve been cheated, but also that you have a lot of catching up to do. Here’s an overview of the facts, so you can start processing your shifts and begin adjusting to your new normal.
What Is Induced Menopause?
Induced menopause is the premature cessation of periods due to either medical treatment or surgery. It is also referred to as medical menopause or surgical menopause. Induced menopause can occur at any age after puberty and before natural menopause starts (the average age for natural menopause in the UK is 51).
Who Does It Affect?
Induced menopause affects women who have had surgical or medical treatment for tumors in the cervix, endometrium (womb lining) or ovaries. These tumors may be malignant or benign, such as uterine fibroids.
Other conditions that can result in surgery and hence induced menopause, are endometriosis, adenomyosis, complex ovarian cysts and pelvic infections.
Some women who have surgery for bowel cancer can also be affected, depending upon the extent of their surgery.
What Medical Interventions Cause Menopause?
Any surgery that removes both ovaries (known as a bilateral oophorectomy) causes immediate menopause. This can also be as part of a hysterectomy, or part of abdominal resection for bowel cancer.
Hysterectomy (which removes the uterus and/or the cervix) does not cause menopause unless both ovaries are removed as well. In a hysterectomy where one or both ovaries have been preserved to maintain oestrogen hormone levels, the likelihood of menopause within two years is higher.
Medical treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can also cause menopause due to their effect on ovaries. This depends on the type and extent of treatment. The effects can also be minimal and reversible, as both ovaries sometimes function again once they’ve healed.
How is Induced Menopause Different from Natural Menopause?
When your body moves naturally into menopause, you go through three distinct stages, giving you and your body time to adjust. These are perimenopause (the warm up act), menopause (the star) and postmenopause (the clean up act).
With induced menopause, you either go into immediate menopause if you have had surgery to remove your ovaries, or you experience a short transitional period as your ovaries shut down in the case of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Because these changes happen so quickly, symptoms are often more intense due to the sudden loss of ovarian hormones.
What Symptoms Might You Experience?
Symptoms are unique to each woman. They include the same symptoms as natural menopause, with additional symptoms due to your recovery from surgery or from chemotherapy or radiation.
For example, chemotherapy might leave you feeling nauseous, physically exhausted and emotionally depleted. You may experience hair loss, weight gain, or vaginal dryness from radiotherapy.
Add menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, irritation, insomnia and night sweats and it is easy to see why you might feel a bit like a truck ran you over.
How Soon Will Symptoms Occur?
If you have had both ovaries removed, you can experience symptoms straight after your surgery due to the sudden loss of oestrogen in your body.
If you go into Induced Menopause as a result of chemotherapy or radiotherapy, your symptoms will appear more slowly over a period of time as your ovaries stop functioning.
In both cases, your possible symptoms are the same as for natural menopause and the duration and extent of symptoms will be unique to you.
Some women don’t have severe symptoms and can manage easily, whereas other women need to make conscious lifestyle choices and/or consider treatments to help them stay balanced as their body adjusts.
How Can You Manage Induced Menopause?
Your body is used to a hormone cocktail to keep everything in working order. When you go into induced menopause, you shut the supply down early, leaving you at greater risk of developing osteoporosis and other issues in later life. Thankfully, there are several ways to support your body through the transition.
You can reduce hot flushes through simple lifestyle choices, such as reducing your intake of spicy food, wearing layers and always having water with you.
Try positive practices such as yoga, meditation and breathing exercises to calm your nervous system and help you manage symptoms more mindfully.
This is an important time to get support to help you process your feelings and adjust to your new life chapter, so get psychological support from friends and family, or consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Treatment options such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), non-hormonal medication, herbal medicine, complementary medicine and dietary supplements can help your body adjust to hormonal changes.
Talk to your doctor about which options are best for you, taking your age and medical history into account.
Finally, remember that all things pass and you will rediscover your serenity. You may just take a few detours first.