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Primary Ovarian Insufficiency - Topic Overview

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This topic contains information about loss of ovarian function before age 40. If you want information about the normal loss of ovarian function around age 50 or about symptoms in the few years before it, see the topic Menopause and Perimenopause.

What is primary ovarian insufficiency?

Primary ovarian insufficiency (sometimes called premature ovarian failure) occurs when your ovaries—which store and release eggs—stop working before age 40. You may have no or few eggs. Depending on the cause, primary ovarian insufficiency may develop as early as the teen years, or the problem may have been present from birth.

A woman who has primary ovarian insufficiency is very likely to have irregular or no periods, infertility problems, and menopause-like symptoms. It is difficult, though not impossible, for women who have primary ovarian insufficiency to become pregnant.

What causes primary ovarian insufficiency?

Although the exact cause of primary ovarian insufficiency may be unknown, a genetic factor or a problem with the body's immune system may play a role in some women. In an immune system disorder, the body may attack its own tissues—in this case, the ovaries.

Primary ovarian insufficiency may develop after a hysterectomy or other pelvic surgery or from radiation or chemotherapy treatment for cancer. In some of these cases, the condition may be temporary, with the ovaries starting to work again some years later.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of primary ovarian insufficiency are similar to those of menopause. Your menstrual periods may become irregular—you have a period one month but not the next—or they may stop. You also may have some or all of the symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, vaginal dryness, low sex drive, or trouble sleeping.

How is primary ovarian insufficiency diagnosed?

If your periods become irregular or stop, your doctor will give you a physical exam and ask you questions about your general health and whether you have other symptoms of primary ovarian insufficiency. You will also have a pregnancy test. And your blood will be tested for other possible causes of irregular periods.

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