What is Primary Ovarian Insufficiency?

November 13, 2019 | Yesmom

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 Simplifying the Symptoms

Top Things to Know:

  • Primary Ovarian Insufficiency is the condition when any woman, under 40 years of age, has irregular or no periods for over 4 months 
  • Though the exact cause of the condition is unknown, it is believed to be caused by abnormal functioning of ovarian follicles
  • Genetics, familial history, metabolic disorders, chemicals etc., are factors that increase the risk of developing the condition
  • Common symptoms include irregular or no periods, night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, painful sex etc.
  • Though rare, it is relatively easy to diagnose by routine blood, hormone and genetic tests, and pelvic ultrasound 
  • There is no cure for the condition but hormonal therapy is the mainstream treatment option 

What is Primary Ovarian Insufficiency?

Primary Ovarian Insufficiency is a condition in which a woman’s ovaries stop producing eggs regularly in each monthly cycle and do not produce enough sex hormones to regulate the menstrual cycle. It occurs in women who are less than 40 years of age and are far away from reaching menopause. Women in their late teens, 20s and even 30s can develop this condition. The characteristic feature of the condition is the irregularity or complete absence of periods in a woman for 4 months or more.  

Did you know that primary ovarian insufficiency is not a very common condition and affects only 1% of all the women in the world?

Is Primary Ovarian Insufficiency Same as Menopause?

Primary Ovarian Insufficiency was earlier thought to be similar to menopause and hence was called as ‘premature menopause’. It is common for women around 40 years of age to experience irregular periods as they are approaching menopause. But, primary ovarian insufficiency is different as it occurs in women who are much younger. 

  • In menopause, a woman doesn’t get her periods at all, nor can she conceive. But in primary ovarian insufficiency, the woman gets her periods, although irregularly, and she can get pregnant. 
  • Menopause usually occurs after a woman turns 40 whereas, primary ovarian insufficiency occurs in women who are younger than 40.

What Causes Primary Ovarian Insufficiency in a Woman?

In most cases, the exact cause of primary ovarian insufficiency is unknown. However, the problem usually lies within the woman’s ovary and small sacs in it called follicles. 

In a healthy woman with no reproductive problems, the eggs grow inside these follicles and each month they are released into the uterus on maturity hoping to meet the sperm. But, in a woman with primary ovarian insufficiency, multiple problems can occur with these follicles, such as:

  • The number of follicles is running out (each woman has a limited number of follicles to last throughout her reproductive period and this is already fixed when a girl is born)
  • The follicles are not working properly
  • Unknown problem with the follicles.

Other causes of primary ovarian insufficiency are:

  • Genetic conditions
  • Familial history with either the woman’s mother or sister having this condition
  • Metabolic disorders 
  • Toxins from cigarette smoke, pesticides, or other chemicals
  • A low number of follicles
  • Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy

How Do I Know I Have Primary Ovarian Insufficiency?

One of the first symptoms that you will notice with primary ovarian insufficiency is abnormal or missed periods. But, these symptoms are also seen with other gynaecological conditions like PCOS, endometriosis etc. Other symptoms you may observe in primary ovarian insufficiency are very similar to that which occurs when a woman is approaching menopause:

  • Night sweats
  • Hot flashes
  • Irritability
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Painful sex
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Difficulty in conceiving

Does Primary Ovarian Insufficiency Affect Fertility?

One of the main concerns of women with this condition is the difficulty in getting pregnant. 

In a woman with primary ovarian insufficiency, there is a problem with the egg-releasing follicles as they either do not release the egg at all or do so erratically, leading to irregular cycles. This makes it difficult for the woman to conceive, thereby affecting fertility in women.

How is Primary Ovarian Insufficiency Diagnosed?

If you are having irregular periods or other symptoms mentioned above, and you suspect that you are suffering from primary ovarian insufficiency, you must visit your physician for further tests. 

In order to diagnose your condition, your physician will:

  • Perform a medical examination, including a familial history to check hereditary risks
  • Perform a pregnancy test to rule out pregnancy
  • Conduct blood tests to check hormonal levels 
  • Chromosomal or genetic tests to get a better picture of the cause of the symptoms 
  • Pelvic ultrasound to see your ovaries

How is Primary Ovarian Insufficiency Treated?

Currently, there are no treatments to improve the functioning of the ovaries and the follicles to treat primary ovarian insufficiency. The treatments provided are primarily to treat and relieve symptoms and reduce the health risks associated with the condition. About 5-10% of the women with the condition get pregnant when their ovaries begin to function normally again.

 (Try YesMom’s fertility health profile to know your chances of getting pregnant!)