Premature ovarian failure
Premature ovarian failure
Premature ovarian failure refers to a loss of normal function of your ovaries before the age of 40. If your ovaries fail, they don't produce normal amounts of the hormone estrogen or release eggs regularly. Infertility is a common result.
Premature ovarian failure is sometimes referred to as premature menopause, but the two conditions are not exactly the same. Women with premature ovarian failure — also known as primary ovarian insufficiency — may have irregular or occasional periods for years and may even become pregnant. Women with premature menopause stop having periods and can't become pregnant.
Restoring estrogen levels in women with premature ovarian failure helps prevent some complications, such as osteoporosis, but infertility is harder to treat.
The signs and symptoms of premature ovarian failure are similar to those experienced by a woman going through menopause and are typical of estrogen deficiency. They include:
When to see a doctor
Even if you don't mind not having your period, it's still wise to check in with your doctor and try to find out what's causing the problem. If your estrogen levels are low, bone loss can occur.
In women with normal ovarian function, the pituitary gland releases certain hormones during the menstrual cycle, which causes a small number of egg-containing follicles in the ovaries to begin maturing. Usually, only one follicle reaches maturity each month. When the follicle is mature, it bursts open, releasing the egg. The egg then enters the fallopian tube, where a sperm cell might fertilize it, resulting in pregnancy.
Premature ovarian failure results from one of two processes — follicle depletion or follicle disruption.
During each menstrual cycle, an egg is released by one of the ovaries (ovulation). The egg travels into the fallopian tube. If fertilization is to occur, sperm ejaculated into the vagina must swim up ...
Factors that increase your risk of developing premature ovarian failure include:
Complications of premature ovarian failure include:
Preparing for your appointment
Your first appointment will likely be with your primary care physician or a gynecologist. If you're seeking treatment for infertility, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in reproductive hormones and optimizing fertility (reproductive endocrinologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and it can be difficult to remember everything you want to discuss, it's a good idea to prepare in advance of your appointment.
What you can do
Questions you might ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask additional questions during your appointment.
Questions your doctor may ask
Questions your doctor may ask include:
During your appointment, speak up if you don't understand something. It's important that you understand the reason for any tests or treatments that are recommended.
Tests and diagnosis
To help make a diagnosis of premature ovarian failure, your doctor may ask about your signs and symptoms, your menstrual cycle, and a history of exposure to any toxins, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, which cause direct injury to follicles and eggs. Most women have few signs of premature ovarian failure, but you'll likely have a physical examination, including a pelvic exam.
Several blood tests are important in making a diagnosis. These include:
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for premature ovarian failure is usually tailored to address the problems that arise from estrogen deficiency:
Some women and their partners choose to pursue a pregnancy through in vitro fertilization using donor eggs. The procedure involves removing eggs from a donor and fertilizing them with your partner's sperm in a laboratory. The fertilized egg (embryo) is then placed in your uterus. During this process, you take medication that balances your hormones to support a pregnancy. Once the pregnancy is established, you stop taking the medication and the pregnancy proceeds naturally to the delivery.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Learning that you have premature ovarian failure may be emotionally difficult. But with proper hormone replacement therapy and self-care, you can expect to lead a healthy life.
Coping and support
If you'd hoped for future pregnancies, a diagnosis of premature ovarian failure can bring on overwhelming feelings of loss — even if you've already been pregnant and given birth to children. Grief is a normal feeling during this time.
To better cope:
Last Updated: 2010-12-30
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