Early Onset Menarche
Menarche - A Cause for Celebration
Menarche, a young girl's first menstrual period, is cause for great celebration in some cultures. The girl is set apart and through ceremony and rejoicing, she is welcomed into the sacred and honored league of women. It is truly a special time. Sadly, the celebration doesn't extend to some other cultures and young girls are often given a box of sanitary pads and a bit of direction in terms of how to use and dispose of them and life goes on. However, sometimes the girl is very young and menarche has begun long before she has turned ten years of age. Some little girls experience menarche at the age of eight or nine. Biologically, this is not a cause for celebration.
Menarche comes at different times for young girls. Although there are some markers in terms of ethnicity, culture and nutrition, overall normally, the first menstrual period comes when a girl is between the ages of 12 and 13. While ten is considered young, it is still within an acceptable time and if a girl hasn't started her period by the time she's 14, it is considered late. Anything on the outside of either extreme should be examined by a medical professional because it can indicate an underlying medical condition. Beginning menarche at too young an age can lead to complications in adulthood.
When Things Kick into Gear Too Early
Puberty actually begins a couple of years before menarche arrives, normally when a girl is between seven and eight years old. Signs of early puberty in girls younger than seven is called precocious puberty and include hair growth in the pubic area and under the arms as well as breast development, acne, moodiness or irritability, body order or rapid growth.
Early onset menstruation follows precocious puberty and begins when the hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland to produce hormones, which in turn trigger the ovaries to produce estrogen. There may be an underlying cause that triggers the surge in hormones, such as a tumor, head injury, thyroid problem or a problem with the ovaries. It may be inherited, although that is rare. Most of the time there is no specific reason for the early onset of menstruation. However, it is important that girls who are exhibiting early sexual development to be examined by a doctor and have the necessary tests done to determine and confirm the presence of excess hormones. Tumors can be ruled out with x-ray, ultrasound, or MRI scans.
Possible Causes for Early Onset Menarche
There are other possible causes of early onset menarche that are under consideration by medical experts who are studying this trend. Some of the causes that may be contribution to the general trend of early onset menarche include:
· Nutritional changes that contribute to childhood obesity, causing young girls to attain the required body size (100 pounds) earlier than expected. The fat secrets a hormone called leptin that promotes sexual maturity. Overweight girls tend to mature earlier and thin girls mature later.
· Exposure to pesticides with estrogenic activity. Urbanization and sexualization of the western society means children are exposed to stimuli that may hasten sexual maturity. It is thought that pesticides and insecticides used on foods break down and cause a chemical reaction that stimulates estrogen.
· Endocrine disorders
· History of abuse
The Negative Effects of Starting Menstruation Early
There are various conflicting studies that have reported some adverse effects of premature menarche and others that indicate no long term effects. However, there are indications of short term consequences of early menarche. The bottom line is that medical, social, parental, research, and even political concerns are being voiced concerning the emerging female sexuality problems that arise with this trend.
Some of the consequences of early onset menarche are:
· Psychological effects on a young girl who has puberty and menarche earlier than her peers are negative. The risk of depression, eating disorders, negative body image, social withdrawal, aggressiveness and increased menstrual distress is increased. The greatest challenge for young girls with premature menarche is the feeling of not fitting the acceptable image of ideal feminine beauty.
· Sexually, early puberty and menarche are linked directly with earlier onset of sexual activity.
· Breast cancer risk increases because of the longer exposure to estrogen over the years.
· Early onset menarche can lead to illicit drug use and smoking.
There are Still Things Parents Can Do
Although the general trend toward early onset menarche is out of a parent's hands, there is still opportunity to be watchful and vigilant of the social stimuli children are exposed to, avoiding excessive premature exposure to sexual material that can trigger unwanted actions.
Menarche is a special time for a girl. Learn more about what to expect on this site, in our article posted here.