Premature ovarian failure (POF) occurs when your ovaries produce insufficient estrogen or are unable to release eggs regularly. This condition may be caused by several factors including genetic disorders or chemotherapy and often leads to infertility. At our Houston, TX, fertility center, Dr. Sonja Kristiansen can help you determine whether premature ovarian failure is the reason you are unable to conceive as well as provide advanced infertility solutions to help you overcome this challenge. With over 20 years of experience, Dr. Kristiansen can help you achieve your dreams of growing your family.
Premature Ovarian Failure vs. Early Menopause
The term “premature ovarian failure” is often confused with early menopause. However, these two conditions have several fundamental differences. Most significantly, women with POF still ovulate occasionally. Furthermore, in about eight to 10 percent of cases, they can still become pregnant.
Premature ovarian failure is often confused with early menopause because some of the symptoms overlap.
This is because having POF does not always mean there are insufficient follicles, which is a characteristic of early menopause. In fact, nearly half of all women with this condition still have follicles. In this case, the issue stems from an autoimmune dysfunction or a “disconnect” between ovarian function and hormones.
Causes of POF
During each menstrual cycle, the pituitary gland releases hormones that trigger the maturation of egg-containing follicles. Generally, one to two follicles reach maturity during every cycle.
Premature ovarian failure occurs when there is a loss of oocytes, or eggs. This can happen for several different reasons, including:
- Chromosomal defects: Some genetic disorders are directly linked to POF, including Mosaic Turner syndrome and fragile X syndrome.
- Autoimmune diseases: In some rare cases, the immune system generates antibodies against the ovarian tissue. As a result, the follicles and contained eggs are harmed. This could be triggered by a virus, although the exact cause is unknown.
- Toxins: Patients who have undergone chemotherapy or radiation are more susceptible to toxin-induced ovarian failure. When this occurs, the genetic material in the cells are damaged. This condition can also be triggered by exposure to chemicals, pesticides, cigarette smoke, and some viruses.
- Idiopathic causes: In some cases, despite extensive testing, there is no known cause for premature ovarian failure.
Potential Risk Factors
Like most conditions, there are certain risk factors that can increase your chances for developing premature ovarian failure. These may include:
- Family history: Individuals who have immediate family members with POF are at a higher risk for developing the disorder themselves.
- Age: POF can be present in women of all ages. However, the condition is more common in patients between the ages of 35 and 40.
- History of ovarian surgeries: Women who have undergone ovarian surgeries to treat conditions such as endometriosis have an increased risk of POF.
Premature ovarian failure is often confused with early menopause because some of the symptoms overlap. For example, women with POF may experience:
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Night sweats
- Irregular periods
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased sex drive
We perform comprehensive infertility testing at our practice to help determine the cause of your symptoms and identify possible treatment options.
Treatment and Infertility Solutions
In most cases, premature ovarian failure is treated as an estrogen deficiency. The most common approaches to the treatment of infertility caused by POF include:
- Estrogen therapy: Hormone therapy using estrogen and progesterone can alleviate symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats and help prevent the development of osteoporosis. Adding progesterone to the estrogen can help protect the endometrium from precancerous conditions.
- Calcium and vitamin D supplements: Because vitamin D deficiency is common in women with POF, many doctors recommend a daily supplement. Calcium supplements will mostly likely be necessary as well. Vitamin D and calcium are essential for halting the development of osteoporosis. Before beginning this type of treatment, your doctor may recommend bone density testing for accurate dosage.
During a consultation at our practice, Dr. Kristiansen can help identify the root cause of POF and design a personalized plan to treat it accordingly. She can also discuss the options available to you for building your family, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), egg donation, or adoption.
Find a Solution
If you are experiencing irregular periods, night sweats, irritability, or other symptoms of POF, schedule a consultation at the Houston Fertility Center. Contact us online or call us at (713) 862-6181 to speak to a member of our team today.