Premature ovarian failure

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 29, 2016
StartDiseasesPremature ovarian failure

Premature ovarian failure is sometimes called premature menopause because its signs and symptoms are similar to those of menopause. Women who have been diagnosed with premature ovarian failure typically have nonexistent or irregular periods. However, unlike women who are menopausal, they may still be able to get periods, get pregnant, and have children. It is also called ovarian insufficiency.


Definition & Facts

Premature ovarian failure is the loss of normal function in the ovaries before a woman reaches the age of 40. The body does not produce necessary amounts of estrogen. It often leads to infertility.

Symptoms & Complaints

Signs and symptoms of premature ovarian failure are similar to those of menopause. These signs are as follows:


Ovarian insufficiency involves the failure of the ovaries to release eggs or adequately produce hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Its causes are often unknown or idiopathic.

There are a number of contributing factors or risk factors associated with this condition, including exposure to toxins. Chemotherapy and radiation are the most common causes of ovarian failure. Cigarette smoke, certain types of viruses, pesticides, and chemicals may also contribute to the condition.

Other causes of ovarian insufficiency are chromosomal abnormalities or genetic disorders. Turner syndrome is a genetic disorder in which a woman has one normal X chromosome instead of two. Other possible causes include autoimmune diseases where the immune system responds to ovarian tissue by creating antibodies that fight or reject the ovarian tissue.

Diagnosis & Tests

Period tracking is essential for being aware of any abnormal changes to a woman’s reproductive system. During a doctor's visit, the doctor will perform a physical examination during the appointment. The physician will ask questions pertaining to the patient's symptoms (including vaginal dryness and hot flashes), their medical history (including a history of chemotherapy and radiation), and their family history (including whether the patient's family has a history of premature ovarian failure, autoimmune disease, or genetic disorders).

Pregnancy tests and blood tests (including those which test for abnormally high levels of follicle-stimulating hormone) may be administered. Imaging studies may be performed in order to identify underlying causes.

Treatment & Treatment

The vast majority of women living with premature ovarian failure are not capable of becoming pregnant naturally. Some utilize donor eggs to become pregnant, while others have success using fertility treatments.

Estrogen therapy may address the deficiency of estrogen among women who have premature ovarian failure. Estrogen therapy can help decrease the chances of developing osteoporosis. Estrogen therapy is usually combined with progesterone therapy. Adding progesterone shields the uterine lining (endometrium) from precancerous changes caused by ingesting estrogen by itself.

There are side effects to these hormone therapies. Vaginal bleeding is a common side effect from the combination of hormones. Long-term use of estrogen and progestin (a type of progesterone) has been connected to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

Because women with ovarian insufficiency have an increased risk for osteoporosis, it is important that they receive the daily recommended amount of calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients are essential for bone health. Additionally, health care providers may perform bone mineral density tests to assess the levels of bone density.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Genetic factors cannot be prevented nor can possibly fatal illnesses which necessitate causal therapies like chemotherapy or radiation.

Nonetheless, it is still possible to make efforts to avoid exposure to environmental toxicants that may cause or exacerbate premature ovarian failure.