The approximate age at which a woman hits menopause may be determined by her genes, but the timing can also be influenced by environmental factors such as smoking, and, according to a recent study, not having children.
Fifty-one is the average age that women in the U.S. enter menopause, but a significant percentage of women reach this life stage at a younger age. Up to two percent of all women face menopause at around age 40, which is referred to as “premature” menopause. Up to seven percent will have an “early” menopause, somewhere between the ages of 40 to 44.
Genetics is definitely one of the factors that determines the age that women reach menopause. If a woman’s mother started menopause at an early age she has a higher than average chance of doing the same.
Lifestyle and health issues also play a part. If a woman smokes and her mother didn’t, she may enter menopause earlier than her mother did. Health issues also play a role. Cancer treatment—such as chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapies—can interfere with hormone levels and also prompt early menopause.
Having a first period at an early age can predict early menopause and not having children may also influence the timing.
A 2017 study, published in Human Reproduction, compared the odds of early or premature menopause in women who had a first period before the age of 11 and in women who never had children. The study found that women who had their first period before 11 were 80 percent more likely to reach menopause prematurely and 30 percent more likely to be early, compared to women who had their first period a year or two later. Women who never had children were twice as likely as the general female population to have premature menopause and 30 percent more likely to have an early menopause. That means women who had their periods early and had no children are at a 5.2 percent risk of entering menopause prematurely and a 9.9 percent risk of early menopause.
Women who are over 35, still want a family, and had a first period before the age of 11 may want to discuss the possibility of early or premature menopause with a healthcare provider.
The study may prove useful in helping healthcare providers talk to their patients about family planning and health issues associated with menopause.