Premature Ovarian Failure Premature Menopause

Premature menopause, also known as premature ovarian failure (POF), occurs when ovarian function ceases in women under the age of 40 years.

Women may

  • Have infrequent periods or stop having periods altogether
  • Experience symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes
  • Irritability and vaginal dryness due to low estrogen levels.
  • Be unable to conceive

Blood tests may reveal elevated levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), a hormone released from the brain to stimulate the ovaries, and low estrogen levels. In some cases, POF may be intermittent, however, it is not possible to predict when and in which women intermittent recovery will occur.

Premature Ovarian Failure Infertility Treatments

For women who desire conception, the likelihood of becoming pregnant and delivering a baby using in vitro fertilization with donor eggs is approximately 50 percent. Egg freezing techniques are experimental at the present time, but may be an option in the future for those undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, or for those with a family history of POF.

In the majority of women with POF, the cause remains unknown. Some causes for POF or early menopause include autoimmune disorders and genetic abnormalities. Radiation and chemotherapy for treatment of cancer often causes premature menopause that is not always reversible. About 4 percent of women with early menopause have a family history of POF. Women experiencing early menopause have a very slim chance of conceiving with their own eggs. Due to low estrogen levels, women with POF also are at risk for bone loss and osteoporosis.

Women with POF due to an autoimmune cause also are at risk of developing other endocrine problems such as hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid), diabetes and adrenal failure. They also may be at an increased risk for lupus and arthritis. It may be necessary to exclude a chromosomal abnormality as a cause for POF in some women, particularly those with symptoms of menopause under 30 years of age.

Hormonal treatments can be used to treat the symptoms associated with premature menopause and for long-term benefits such as prevention of osteoporosis, heart disease, sleep disorders, depression, sexual dysfunction and dementia. In younger women who do not smoke and who are not at increased risk for blood clots, the birth control pill is often the treatment of choice to affect hormone replacement therapy. There are several other hormone formulations available for those who cannot take the birth control pill.

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