When a girl reaches puberty, she starts having periods or begins menstruating. This implies bleeding from the vagina every month, when the uterus sheds its lining. Healthy women continue having regular periods, that is, every month, while others with underlying health conditions might have more irregular periods, but these continue till a certain age before women experience menopause.
Menopause occurs when periods stop happening. The age at natural menopause (ANM) is not clearly defined, but is clinically understood to be at around 52-55 years. This happens because of a natural decline in the functionality and health of the reproductive system. ANM is dependent on several factors including genetic make-up, ethnicity, lifestyle and health conditions.
However, there is a condition called premature menopause, where women in the reproductive age present with a cessation of menstruation. When women experience premature menopause, it leaves them more vulnerable to several chronic health conditions including obesity, cardiovascular conditions and osteoporosis. Early menopause is a problem that’s tricky to be certain about, but could be triggered by factors like underlying health conditions, surgery, treatment of cancer using chemotherapy etc. One of the most common such triggers is stress.
Given the current scenario, women of reproductive age are exposed to several lifestyle changes that include drinking and smoking, irregular sleep pattern, poor dietary choices and stress. While many women might not indulge in most of the factors stated above, stress is common and exists in several different forms.
Stress is the result of a combination of factors and these commonly include stress due to relationships, competition, career and pay as well as significant life events. Stress levels in women can be measured by taking these factors into condition and the impact that they have on the overall mental state of the women. This coupled with other factors like age, age of puberty, pre existing medical conditions and lifestyle choices may have a direct impact on the functioning of the reproductive system.
From a clinical point of view, persistent stress triggers hyperactivity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and has a significant impact on the hormonal activity. While short-term or passing stress might not have a telling impact, yet consistent stress is known to alter this balance, resulting in premature menopause.
Even though it is difficult to ascertain the precise correlation between stress and premature menopause, yet, a study conducted to determine how stress changes the ANM had some astonishing results.
This study also took into account personal income, Body Mass Index, age and menstrual regularity to ensure consistent results. The outcome of that study revealed that women who reported stress had a lower mean age for ANM, which in simple language means that stress does play a role in bringing down the age for menopause, which in medical terms is premature menopause.
The onset of premature menopause can have daunting emotional side effects. Therefore, the first step is to understand the symptoms and seek help.
Clinically, premature menopause is defined as the stopping of periods for 12 months before the age of 40. If you have not had your periods at all for close to a year and you are under the age of 40, you must consult with a doctor as this is the first sign.
Apart from this, you might have regular or irregular periods, but might be experiencing constant irritation, hot flushes, frequent urination, lack of sleep, vaginal pain and loss of sex drive. These symptoms could be indicative of an approaching early menopause and this can leave you confused and all the more stressed out.
If this is what you are experiencing then remember, stress will aggravate the situation. Work out your reproductive goals and consult with a doctor to seek a more accurate diagnosis. Your doctor will guide you medically and emotionally on the ways through which you can manage your stress.
There are some easy methods you can adapt to keep your stress levels under control too.
Disclaimer: Please note it is medically not proven that stress alone can cause premature menopause in Indian women unlike in the case of Asians. However, stress combined with several other health issues might cause premature menopause.