What is primary ovarian insufficiency?

Primary ovarian insufficiency is a disorder that occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop functioning prematurely (earlier than normal). In women with this condition, the ovaries (organs that produce a woman’s eggs) stop producing eggs before age 40. The usual age for egg production to stop, known as menopause, is around 50.

When the ovaries stop functioning and stop producing eggs, they also no longer produce hormones including estrogen. Women with low estrogen levels are at an increased risk of certain health issues. Primary ovarian insufficiency is also known as premature ovarian failure. This diagnosis is currently called “insufficiency” rather than “failure” because the ovaries can intermittently (occasionally) function, begin releasing eggs, and even result in successful pregnancy.

How common is primary ovarian insufficiency?

Primary ovarian insufficiency affects about 1 out of every 1,000 women ages 15 to 29, and 1 out of 100 women ages 30 to 39.

What causes primary ovarian insufficiency?

In many cases, doctors don’t know what causes primary ovarian insufficiency. Known causes include:

  • Autoimmune disorders (the body’s own cells attack healthy tissue)
  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation treatments
  • Genetic disorders including Turner Syndrome (genetic disorder involving an abnormality in one of a female’s two X chromosomes) or Fragile X syndrome
  • Hysterectomy (operation to remove a woman’s uterus and/or ovaries)
  • Viral infections

What are the signs and symptoms of primary ovarian insufficiency?

Some women with primary ovarian insufficiency do not have any symptoms. When symptoms occur, they can include:

  • Amenorrhea (missed or irregular periods)
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Hot flashes
  • Trouble getting pregnant
  • Vaginal dryness

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