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'I Wanted To Be A Mum': Aussie Women Are Going Through Menopause At 25

Lorena always dreamt of being a mother. But at 25, she said that choice was suddenly taken from her.

The young woman was just 23 when, at a routine check up with her gynaecologist, she discovered her ovaries were small.

"I was having my periods normally and taking the contraceptive pill. Everything seemed normal," she told 10 daily.

Lorena started showing signs of early menopause at 23. Image: Supplied

Lorena's doctor advised her to stop taking the pill. Then her periods stopped, and the menopausal symptoms -- such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness -- started.

"Because I was 23, I had no idea what was going on," Lorena said.

"I could see on my doctor's face that she had no idea as well -- or if she thought something wasn't right, she didn't want to share it."

Lorena looked for answers, seeking help from several doctors. But she said she felt completely lost.

It wasn't until two years later that a fertility specialist diagnosed her with spontaneous Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) -- a rare condition where a woman loses function of her ovaries before the age of 40.

Lorena sat with her mother, crying.

"My mum was holding me; she was trying not to break down. To finally get an answer, and to have to process that I was 25 and had menopause ... it was heavy," she said.

I always imagined having kids ... I now found myself in a position where that wasn't a choice anymore.

In Australia, the expected age of menopause -- or a woman's final menstrual period -- is 51.

Lorena is part of around one to two percent of Australian women who experience POI before 40.

About 10 percent of women will go through menopause before 45, with about five percent of cases occurring spontaneously and the remaining caused by medical treatment such as chemotherapy or surgery.

Turner syndrome, a rare genetic condition that affects women, is a known cause of POI. But in other cases, the cause is unknown.

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Endocrinologist Amanda Vincent said the hallmark of both conditions is loss of ovarian function.

"(This) leads to infertility and low oestrogen levels which leads to increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease from a young age," the Monash University professor told 10 daily.

She said the psychological impact of early menopause can be profound, with increased rates of anxiety and depression reported among affected women.

"It can be very distressing; women can feel isolated, and have feelings of losing their femininity around not being able to have children," she said.

How Does It Start?

Like Lorena's experience, Vincent said a common hallmark of early menopause can simply be a woman's periods stopping.

"Women may or may not be getting the classic menopausal symptoms of hot flushes, though sometimes it can help to think of the diagnosis if they do," she said.

"For some, their periods stop and that's all that happens. If that happens for more than four months, they should be assessed."

Problems with infertility is another common hallmark, though Vincent warned symptoms can vary.

Lorena was diagnosed with Spontaneous Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) when she was 25. Image: Supplied
Early Menopause Going 'Unrecognised'

Vincent said the lack of credible information about the condition means it is going unrecognised by both women and health practitioners.

She said women may not be aware of common symptoms, or think they're too young.

"Because these women are so young, often health professionals don't think of early menopause either," she said.

"That can often lead to a delayed diagnosis."

This prompted researchers at Monash and RMIT to launch an online resource that shares the experiences of 30 women with early menopause.

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The website is designed to help health practitioners recognise and diagnose the condition, and provide information for women on symptoms, effects and treatment.

Lorena shared her story, and found support in hearing others.

"Each of us had a different story, but it's good to know that I'm not alone," she said.

Years on, after trying out several hormone replacement therapies, Lorena said she has learned to accept her condition and love her body.

"It's difficult, it's complicated, but we can do it," she said, offering an important message to other women. 

"We are here to help each other, and I believe with self-love and understanding of our own bodies and mind, the transition will be much easier." 

For more information, visit Early Menopause: Experiences and Perspectives of Women and Health Practitioners

Contact the author: ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au