What Is Premature Ovarian Failure?

More women and couples are struggling with pregnancy now than ever. One particular cause of infertility is premature ovarian failure (POF). Also called primary ovarian insufficiency, POF is a condition wherein the ovaries no longer produce eggs consistently. When this happens, an egg cannot be released for fertilization. POF can occur at any reproductive age and is often confused with premature menopause. However, women with POF have irregular periods for years but may still get pregnant. On the other hand, women with premature menopause stop having periods entirely and can no longer conceive.

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Who is at risk of POF?

POF is most common among women aged 35-40, but younger women may also develop the condition. There is also a genetic link, as most women have a mother or sister with POF. Chemotherapy treatments for breast and ovarian cancer decrease hormone production by the ovaries, leading to POF. Furthermore, exposure to certain chemicals, thyroid disease, diabetes, eating disorders, and other health problems cause POF.

Look for these symptoms

Irregular or missed periods are the first and most prominent symptom. Menstrual cycles change as ovulation becomes less regular and less frequent. Women also experience signs similar to menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, poor concentration, fatigue, and low sex drive. These symptoms and difficulty getting pregnant naturally should signal a visit to a reproductive specialist.

POF treatment

The ovaries are responsible for releasing eggs and producing the hormones necessary for fertility. When these glands fail to make regular amounts of hormones, natural pregnancy is difficult. Women with POF can still experience regular cycles, and pregnancy is possible within these cycles. However, most women will need assistance to increase these chances. While there are currently no approved medical treatments for POF, doctors may prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The treatment helps restore hormone levels and relieve symptoms. If conceiving naturally after multiple cycles of HRT fails, the doctor may discontinue therapy to explore other fertility options.

Does POF mean you can’t get pregnant?

Women with POF can still produce eggs necessary for conception, albeit less frequently than usual. Therefore, there is still a 5-10% chance of getting pregnant naturally. However, if pregnancy fails after a year of trying, assisted reproductive technology is available. For instance, in vitro fertilization (IVF) can help by extracting existing eggs and creating embryos for implantation. Women with POF have a high chance of conceiving after 3 cycles of IVF. Other options include intrauterine insemination (IUI), surrogacy, and adoption.

There is still hope

Some women get pregnant while others struggle to conceive. With premature ovarian failure, there could be a depletion or dysfunction of the existing follicles in the ovaries. Family planning becomes challenging as pregnancy is less predictable. With age, pregnancy with POF also increases in difficulty. Uncovering the root cause of infertility can help doctors devise the best plan for women and couples to have a family.

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