Premature ovarian failure
Are you experiencing erratic menstrual periods? Or having difficulty getting pregnant? These symptoms may point to premature ovarian failure, which affects as many as 250,000 women under the age of 40. But what is ovarian failure? And is it possible to restore normal ovarian function?
Ovary and ovulation anatomy
The ovaries contain thousands of immature follicles, which contain eggs. At the beginning of each menstrual cycle, the pituitary gland sends a chemical signal to the ovaries in the form of a hormone called the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This hormone stimulates some of the follicles in the ovaries to begin maturing, although usually only one follicle actually reaches maturity and becomes an egg (ovum).
Maturing follicles in the ovaries that have been stimulated by the hormone FSH make estrogen, which is a chemical signal to the pituitary gland that FSH is no longer needed. Then, the pituitary gland releases another hormone, called luteinizing hormone (LH). This hormone causes the mature follicle to open, releasing the egg (ovulation). The egg then enters the fallopian tube where it might be fertilized by sperm — resulting in pregnancy.
What is premature ovarian failure?
Premature ovarian failure (POF), or ovarian insufficiency, is the loss of normal function of the ovaries before the age of 40. When the ovaries do not function normally, they stop producing both eggs (ova) and normal amounts of the hormone estrogen. This condition can then lead to infertility and other problems. In fact, most women diagnosed with POF cannot get pregnant naturally.
Premature ovarian failure is sometimes referred to as premature menopause. However, the two conditions are not exactly the same. Women experiencing premature menopause stop having periods and has very little chance of becoming pregnant. Women diagnosed with premature ovarian failure may have sporadic periods for years and may even become pregnant (although the chance is low).
POF sometimes responds to fertility treatment, although normal ovarian function cannot be medically restored. Are you at risk of developing POF? To learn more about what causes premature ovarian failure, continue reading. We’ll review the risk factors and causes of premature ovarian failure next.
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