Premature ovarian failure

Premature ovarian failure — also known as primary ovarian insufficiency — refers to a loss of normal function of your ovaries before age 40. If your ovaries fail, they don't produce normal amounts of the hormone estrogen or release eggs regularly. Infertility is a common result.

Premature ovarian failure is sometimes referred to as premature menopause, but the two conditions aren't exactly the same. Women with premature ovarian failure may have irregular or occasional periods for years and may even become pregnant. Women with premature menopause stop having periods and can't become pregnant.

Restoring estrogen levels in women with premature ovarian failure helps prevent some complications, such as osteoporosis, but infertility is harder to treat.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Signs and symptoms of premature ovarian failure are similar to those experienced by a woman going through menopause and are typical of estrogen deficiency. They include:

  • Irregular or skipped periods (amenorrhea), which may be present for years or may develop after a pregnancy or after stopping birth control pills
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Irritability or difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased sexual desire

When to see a doctor

If you notice that you've skipped your period for three months or more, see your doctor to help determine what may be the cause. You may miss your period for a number of reasons — including pregnancy, stress, or a change in diet or exercise habits — but it's best to get evaluated whenever your menstrual cycle changes.

Even if you don't mind that your periods have stopped, it's still wise to see your doctor and try to find out what's causing the problem. If your estrogen levels are low, bone loss can occur.

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