What Does It Mean When a Woman Experiences Premature Ovarian Failure?

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If you are a woman in good health, your ovaries are designed to regularly produce a hormone called estrogen. This vital hormone works by controlling your menstrual periods while ensuring fertility if you want to get pregnant. As you would expect, as you age there comes a point where your ovaries will eventually stop producing this important hormone.

Premature Ovarian Failure, or Primary Ovarian Insufficiency

Known as premature ovarian failure, or primary ovarian insufficiency, this medical condition occurs in women before they even hit menopause. In this case, your ovaries simply stop working or stop producing eggs, effectively bringing your periods to a stop. On average, menopause most often affects women who are around 51 years old. Should this condition affect you if you are younger than 40, you are likely experiencing primary ovarian insufficiency.

Occasionally this condition is confused with premature menopause, but they actually aren’t the same thing. As a woman with primary ovarian insufficiency, you can still have occasional periods for many years and even be able to conceive. Not so for women struggling with premature menopause who actually stop having periods altogether so they can’t get pregnant. The solution for women struggling with primary ovarian insufficiency is restoring those estrogen levels. Great estrogen levels are vital for preventing other issues like osteoporosis.

How can you know if your symptoms of primary ovarian insufficiency are similar to being in menopause or having an estrogen deficiency? You’ll typically experience the following symptoms:

  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Dry eyes
  • Hot flashes
  • Irregular or skipped periods
  • Irritability or problems concentrating
  • Night sweats
  • Problems getting pregnant
  • Vaginal dryness

You should definitely get checked out if you find yourself missing periods for three or more months in a row. Whether it’s from pregnancy, excessive stress, dietary changes or your different exercise workouts, it’s still a good idea to find out why these missed periods are happening. Especially when it’s because of low estrogen levels because that can cause other serious health issues like bone loss and heart disease.

What Is Causing Your Primary Ovarian Insufficiency

-Autoimmune disease: Where your immune system responds to your ovarian tissue by creating antibodies against your ovarian tissue. When this happens, it negatively impacts your egg-containing follicles and harms the egg itself.

-Changes in your chromosome: If your family tree includes relatives having had primary ovarian insufficiency, you are more prone to it as well. For example, if you have one normal X chromosome and one abnormal one where the X chromosomes are not just fragile but prone to break.

-Toxins: If you are undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer, the toxins can lead to ovarian failure and damage the cells in your genetic material. Other harmful agents include smoking (firsthand and secondhand smoke inhalation), chemicals in your home or work environment, pesticides and even viruses that can trigger ovarian failure.

-Factors that are unknown: There are instances when primary ovarian insufficiency is caused by something we don’t actually know. That is referred to as idiopathic, meaning any disease or condition that crops up spontaneously and no one knows why.

As you can see, there are various conditions that boost your odds of getting primary ovarian insufficiency and the risk increases when you are between 35 and 40 years old. Ovarian surgery can also leave a woman with primary ovarian insufficiency.

The complications of primary ovarian insufficiency are pretty serious. It can leave you unable to become pregnant and, as mentioned, it also increases your risk of osteoporosis with weak and brittle bones, prone to breakage. Low estrogen levels can also lead to depression and anxiety.

If you need help with your fertility goals, our Utah Fertility Center teams are here to provide comprehensive fertility care and are located all over the state. You can find a location nearest you and reach out to learn more or schedule a visit.