A woman’s ovaries normally function until she is well in her 40’s. Generally, menopause will begin around age 50. Unfortunately, some women experience primary ovarian failure. This condition can occur in women before they reach the age of 40.
Primary ovarian insufficiency, or POI, is the result of the ovaries not producing normal amounts of the hormone estrogen, or they do not release eggs regularly. Infertility is often the result.
POI is different from premature menopause, although the two are often confused. Women who experience premature menopause cannot get pregnant, while those with POI can still have irregular or occasional periods for years and may become pregnant.
Low estrogen levels in women with POI can produce other problems such as osteoporosis. Restoring sufficient levels of estrogen can reverse these symptoms.
Symptoms of POI
Menopause, estrogen deficiency and POI have similar symptoms:
- Missed or irregular periods over years or could develop after having a baby or stopping birth control pills
- Difficulty getting pregnant
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Dry eyes
- Irritability or difficulty concentrating
- Reduced sexual desire
Some women do not mind missing periods; however, it is still important to see a doctor to identify the problem. Bone loss and increased risk of heart disease are associated with low estrogen levels. If you miss a period for three or more months, you should be seen by a doctor.
Causes for POI
It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of POI, however it can be caused by:
- Chromosomal defects – Mosaic Turner syndrome is an example of a genetic disorder associated with POI.
- Certain toxins, especially those involved in chemotherapy and radiation therapy can damage cellular genetic material. The toxins in cigarette smoke, certain chemicals, pesticides and viruses may also lead to ovarian failure.
- Autoimmune disease can cause an immune system response to ovarian tissue, resulting in the body’s defense mechanism attacking ovarian tissue and causing harm to the egg-containing follicles and damaging the egg.
The risk for developing POI increases with age when you are 35 or older. If there is a family history of POI, the risk is also increased; ovarian surgery can elevate the risk for POI.
Infertility is one of the complications of POI. In rare instances, a woman may still be able to get pregnant until her eggs are depleted. When POI is the cause of infertility, a woman may be able to use donor eggs in order to become pregnant.
Neway Fertility provides options, including resources for women experiencing POI. If you have fertility problems, contact our office, and schedule an appointment for a consultation.