Premature Ovarian Failure (POF)
Getting pregnant is not always as easy as everybody thinks. Conception often takes time, patience, and persistence. But even with frequent and well-timed intercourse, you may still find it difficult to become pregnant. Pregnancy is especially difficult for women who are suffering from premature ovarian failure. Premature ovarian failure can cause your ovulation and periods to become inconsistent, or even disappear completely. This can make having a baby difficult for some women.
What is Premature Ovarian Failure?
Premature ovarian failure is a condition in which your ovaries do not function properly. It is often accompanied by irregular periods or the complete loss of your periods, called amenorrhea. Premature ovarian failure is also known as premature menopause, because it causes menopause-like side effects, including infertility. Premature ovarian failure can affect any woman between the ages of 14 and 40.
Who Suffers From Ovarian Failure?
Somewhere between 1% and 4% of all women suffer from premature ovarian failure. Between the ages of 15 and 29, 1 in 1000 women will develop the condition. Approximately 1 in 100 women above the age of 30 will also suffer from premature ovarian failure. Moreover, the condition is associated with a number of illnesses, especially autoimmune diseases.
What Causes Premature Ovarian Failure?
The cause of premature ovarian failure is still debated. In up to 50% of sufferers, the cause of the failure is unknown. In others, genetic and environmental factors appear to play a role. Up to 30% of premature ovarian failure sufferers have a family member who also has premature ovarian failure. This may indicate a genetic predisposition to the condition. Other factors that seem to be involved in premature ovarian failure include:
- having an autoimmune disease, especially a thyroid disease
- having had chemotherapy
- having had radiation therapy
- having had pelvic therapy
- having an eating disorder, especially anorexia
Symptoms of Premature Ovarian Failure
Premature ovarian failure diagnosis is difficult, especially if based upon symptoms. This is because every woman with the condition displays different symptoms. However, most women with premature ovarian failure will experience an absence of menstrual periods or irregular periods. Other symptoms include:
- lack of breast development during puberty
- decrease in breast size
- mood swings
- vaginal dryness
- decreased sex drive
Premature Ovarian Failure Vs. Menopause
Though the symptoms are similar, premature ovarian failure is actually very different from natural menopause.
Menopause is associated with aging, and usually begins between the ages of 40 and 50. During this time, your body begins to run out of healthy egg follicles to release during ovulation. As a result, you can no longer become pregnant and your period will stop. Menopause is a natural occurrence and typically does not require treatment.
With premature ovarian failure, ovulation stops for a reason unassociated with age. Due to some sort of loss or dysfunction, your ovaries are no longer producing enough hormones or eggs to allow you to ovulate or have your period on a regular basis. However, between 5 and 10% of women with premature ovarian failure can get pregnant. Unlike menopause, premature ovarian failure is not natural and does require treatment.
Complications Caused by Premature Ovarian Failure
Premature ovarian failure is associated with certain complications. The most obvious complication is infertility. If you are not getting your period on a regular basis, it is likely that you are also not ovulating properly. This can make it very difficult to become pregnant. There are also other complications associated with premature ovarian failure. These include:
- osteoporosis, due to hormone loss
- increased risk for heart disease
- increased risk of developing eye disorders, like glaucoma
- autoimmune disorders
Treating Premature Ovarian Failure
If you are diagnosed with premature ovarian failure, it is a good idea to discuss your treatment options with your health care provider. Treatment for the condition can help you to become pregnant and can also help you to avoid some of the complications associated with premature ovarian failure.
Fertility Drugs: Fertility drugs tend to be the first line of treatment for women with premature ovarian failure. Fertility drugs are medications that can help to stimulate ovulation and regulate your period. Commonly used fertility drugs include:
Egg Donation: Women who are having difficulties producing healthy, viable eggs can sometimes turn to an egg donor to help conceive a child.
In-Vitro Fertilization For women who are having difficulties becoming pregnant due to premature ovarian failure, IVF is often used to help conception.