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Premature Ovarian Failure

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Premature ovarian failure is a condition that causes infertility in women before the age of 40 years. Women with premature ovarian failure suffer from irregular as well as occasional periods. In many cases, these women get pregnant. However, once the periods stop completely, it leads to permanent infertility.

What is Premature Ovarian Failure?

Also called as premature ovarian insufficieny (POI), it is the condition where one suffers from loss of ovarian function before they hit the age of 40.  This means the ovaries that stores eggs, stop storing and releasing eggs before the age of 40. This condition can develop as early as during the teenage years or in some cases, the condition is by birth. Premature ovarian failure makes it extremely difficult for affected women to get pregnant, however, it is not impossible till the ovaries completely stop producing ovaries.


The symptoms of premature ovarian failure are similar to menopause. These symptoms are typical symptoms of estrogen deficiency. These symptoms include:

  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Irritability
  • Night sweats
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Decreased sexual desire

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Many women never go though the normal puberty process. Some may never get a period or begin to miss periods for months. Some women never know they are suffering from premature ovarian failure and find out only when they undergo fertility testing.


The process of storing and releasing egg occurs when the pituitary gland releases certain hormones during the monthly menstrual cycle. These hormones cause the formation of small egg-containing follicles in the ovaries to mature. One follicle of them all matures at the end of every month.

When the mature follicle bursts and releases an egg, it enters the Fallopian tube. It waits patiently for a sperm to fertilize it. When it does not result in pregnancy, the egg is shed along with the uterine lining leading to the menstruation.

Premature ovarian failure occurs it leads to follicle depletion or follicle disruption. The causes of follicle depletion include:

  • Chromosomal defects: Any changes in the genetic makeup can lead to premature ovarian failure. These genetic conditions include Tuner’s syndrome, fragile X syndrome, etc.
  • Chemotherapy, radiation therapy are common causes of toxin-induced ovarian failure. Other toxins that can lead to follicle depletion include cigarette smoke, pesticides, viruses, etc.

Follicle dysfunction can occur due to an autoimmune disorder that attacks healthy ovarian tissue, causing damage to the follicles and disruption of egg. Other causes include:

  • Tuberculosis of the genital tract
  • Ovarian  failure due to hysterectomy
  • Long-term Gonadatrophin Releasing Hormone therapy

In some cases, the exact cause of premature ovarian failure remains unknown.


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Diagnosis of premature ovarian failure is carried out with the help of physical examination and a pelvic examination. Other diagnostic tests conducted include:

  • Pregnancy test
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone test
  • Prolactin test
  • Karyotype testing
  • Estradiol test
  • FMR1 gene testing


The doctor will try to overcome the estrogen deficiency with the help of estrogen therapy. Women may also be given calcium and vitamin D supplements to prevent bone loss and prevent osteoporosis.

Premature ovarian failure can lead to complications such as infertility, osteoporosis, and leads to depression and anxiety. There are many options available today that helps one become a mother. These include in-vitro fertilization (IVF) with the help of donor cells and even adoption. Premature ovarian failure in most cases is irreversible and has no treatment. Speak to your doctor for more details and support required in your case.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 05, 2015

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