Most people have heard of menopause, which refers to a natural body process that occurs when a woman has not had a menstrual period in over 12 months. Natural menopause typically occurs around the age of 51, with many women noticing symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sweats, and a change in their menstrual cycle including irregular and/or heavier or lighter bleeding from the age of about 47.
However, what you may not realize is that menopause doesn’t always occur naturally; sometimes it is induced by surgery, which is termed surgical menopause.
What Is Surgical Menopause?
Surgical menopause occurs when a surgical procedure, instead of the natural aging process, triggers menopause in a woman. Surgical menopause happens after an oophorectomy, which is a minimally invasive surgery that removes the ovaries. The ovaries are the primary producer of estrogen, which is necessary for a normal menstrual cycle. Therefore, when the ovaries are removed, menopause occurs immediately, irrespective of age.
While surgery to remove the ovaries can serve as an individual procedure, it is at times carried out together with hysterectomy. It’s important to note that having a hysterectomy alone doesn’t cause a woman to undergo menopause — the ovaries have to be removed as well.
What to Expect with Surgical Menopause
When it comes to surgical menopause, menopause happens immediately, on the day of surgery to be precise. The sudden loss of ovarian hormones typically results in more harsh symptoms compared to those associated with natural menopause.
Surgical menopause can happen at any age after adolescence and prior to natural menopause. Surgical menopause that happens at a much earlier age compared to natural menopause may lead to an elevated risk of some illnesses because of the loss of protection from not only estrogen, but other ovarian hormones too. For example, the protective role of estrogen on the health of your bones is lost, leading to a higher risk for osteoporosis and fractures.
Additionally, women with surgical menopause might need treatment for menopause-associated symptoms such as vaginal dryness and hot flashes more frequently compared to those who reach menopause naturally. What’s more, treatments for an extended duration, and often at higher doses, are sometimes necessary to manage the symptoms as well as minimize the risk of medical conditions later in life.
Side Effects and Symptoms of Surgical Menopause
Any surgical procedure comes with some risks as an individual is being subjected to anesthesia and the surgeon is introducing surgical apparatuses into the body. Instant complications that may arise after the surgical procedure include infection, blocked intestine or damage to surrounding organs. Additionally, surgical menopause may trigger some long-term effects, which a woman should carefully consider.
When the ovaries are removed, the amount of estrogen and progesterone drops drastically. This can result in a plethora of side effects, including:
Menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, memory problems, decreased vaginal lubrication and loss of sleep may occur. Although these symptoms do not always occur instantly after the surgical procedure, women who have had their ovaries removed (an oophorectomy) are expected to experience them earlier compared to those who haven’t undergone the procedure.
Estrogen is instrumental in bone strengthening. Reduction in the amount of estrogen predisposes a woman to osteoporosis, a serious bone-thinning disease. Osteoporosis also increases the risk of bone fracture.
High Risk for Heart Disease
There is a strong link between estrogen reduction and an upsurge in heart disease, which can lead to heart attack, improper heart function and stroke. To counteract this increased risk, lifestyle changes including consuming a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and refraining from smoking after surgery is recommended.
Treatments for Surgical Menopause
Doctors may recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after the surgical procedure to minimize the risk of surgical menopause-related side effects. HRT helps stabilize hormones after surgery. Additionally, they help minimize the risk for heart disease, and inhibit osteoporosis and bone density loss.
The chances of developing serious health problems are high for women who have their ovaries removed to avert breast cancer before clocking 45 years but fail to take hormone therapy. These health problems include cancer, neurological disease, heart disease and even premature death.
For those who are unwilling, or unable, to use HRT, many nonhormonal medicines such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, supplements and alternative medicines are available. These nonhormonal medications may effectively manage symptoms or inhibit or treat disease.
Frequent reassessment by a competent medical practitioner is important for women who experience surgical menopause to:
- Keep track of the condition that led to the surgical menopause
- Ensure sufficient symptom relief as required
- Reevaluate health status and the threat of disease
- Determine effective disease prevention or treatment measures
For some women experiencing menopause, taking birth control has helped relieve the symptoms. Learn more about menopause and birth control here.
Dealing with Surgical Menopause
Along with hormone replacement therapy, there are a variety of other strategies to help deal with surgical menopause, including:
- Avoiding habits that heighten the risk for hot flashes. These habits include minimizing stress, avoiding alcohol and caffeinated drinks, avoiding spicy foods and reducing exposure to hot temperatures.
- Having cooling items at hand. Keeping ice water handy and a fan close by can help offer some relief.
- Keeping the bedroom cool and silent for improved sleep.
- Using water-based vaginal lubricant to help minimize the distress of vaginal dryness during sex.
How Long Does Surgically Induced Menopause Last?
How long surgically induced menopause last varies from one person to another. Some women may experience surgical menopause-related symptoms for nearly seven years. There is no need to panic — there isn’t much difference between life after surgical induced menopause and life in your reproductive years. Remember to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and visit your doctor frequently to help detect problems early.
Surgical menopause, just like natural menopause, can be uncomfortable, leaving you with nasty side effects. The good news is that many effective medicines and at-home therapies can help manage your symptoms and keep you as comfortable as possible during this transitional stage.