Premature Ovarian Failure is also called primary ovarian insufficiency, PMO, early menopause or premature menopause. As the names imply, ovaries stop working before age 40, years before the normal time to start menopause. This is a rare condition that renders a woman mostly to completely infertile.
There is no cure but women may still be able to have children using donor eggs or fertility treatments. Known causes of premature ovarian failure include a dysfunction of the ovaries or as a symptom from another major illness like Addison’s disease. However, many women have spontaneous primary ovarian insufficiency which means that the cause is completely unknown.
The most common first symptom of premature ovarian failure are missed or skipped periods. Although a missed period happens at some point in most woman’s lives, women who are trying to get pregnant and usually are regular should contact a gynecologist or doctor when they start skipping periods.
Other common symptoms that occur after a skipped period include lowered sex drive, hot flashes, sweating through clothes when trying to sleep or “night sweats”, trouble concentrating, more easily angered than usual and pain during sexual intercourse. These are also the symptoms of menopause.
When a woman’s ovaries stop functioning before she is 40 years old, there are a number of possible causes – the main causes are follicle dysfunction and follicle depletion. In turn, these can be caused by a number of chromosomal, lifestyle and environmental effects.
Both Fragile X and Turner’s syndrome are chromosomal causes. There may also be a family history of the condition that creates a higher rate of risk for developing it. A malfunction of the immune system may be a cause in some women. In these cases, the immune system can attack the body’s own ovaries and cause damage to them.
When a woman has been exposed to toxin such as chemical pollutants, pesticides, tobacco and certain viruses, she is more likely to develop it. Undergoing radiation or chemotherapy treatment for cancer can also cause this condition. Some pelvic surgeries can cause damage to the ovaries and result in their premature failure. These include hysterectomies and other surgeries that target the reproductive system. When the cause is surgical, the failure of the ovaries may be only temporary.
According to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, between 5% to 10% of women diagnosed with premature ovarian failure suddenly have functioning ovaries again and can get pregnant. Just why these spontaneous remissions occur to these women is unknown.
Women who have a primary condition like Addison’s disease may become fertile if their illness is treated successfully.
Hormone replacement therapy is often the only treatment available. These are the same hormones that are prescribed for older women going through menopause. Women are also recommended to increase their calcium and vitamin D since estrogen helps with bone health. Women with menopause lack estrogen.
Since wombs are still functional, some women who want to get pregnant use donor eggs since they lack eggs.
Unless there is a clear genetic component, living a generally healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to prevent premature ovarian failure. There has never been a proven way to 100% prevent this condition from developing, but women who don’t drink and don’t smoke are less likely to develop it. Getting regular exercise and staying at a healthy weight are other preventative lifestyle changes that can be made. Eat a balanced diet that doesn’t include too much fat, in order to reduce the risk of a loss of eggs.
Before undergoing pelvic surgeries, always discuss the risks with your doctor.