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Premature ovarian failure (POF), Ovarian hypofunction, Premature Menopause, Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI)

As you can see, it comes with multiple titles!

POF refers to a loss of normal function of your ovaries before the age of 40. It is basically the reduced function of the ovaries (including decreased production of hormones).

This is a condition that feels much like peri-menopause.  It has the same basic symptoms and is treated in much the same way.  BUT it happens to women much too young to be actually experiencing peri-menopause.

I will not attempt to give you a complete medical explanation of this condition here, but I will give you some basic information and some links to some very good medical sites.


Sometimes women with POF experience erratic periods for years, others first notice skipped periods after a pregnancy or after discontinuing the use of birth control pills. The signs and symptoms of premature ovarian failure are similar to those experienced by a woman going through menopause and are typical of estrogen deficiency.

Premature ovarian failure is sometimes mistakenly called premature menopause, but the two conditions are not exactly the same: Women with premature menopause stop having periods, while women with premature ovarian failure may have sporadic periods for years — and may even become pregnant.

Premature ovarian failure occurs when there are few or no "responsive" follicles left in your ovaries (follicle depletion) or when the follicles aren't responding properly (follicle dysfunction).

Please visit our ‘Monthly Cycle’ page if you would like a refresher on what ‘normally’ happens with your ovaries during the monthly cycle.

What can cause POF?

POF may be caused by genetic factors such as chromosome abnormalities. It may also occur with certain autoimmune disorders that disrupt normal ovarian function, such as Hypothyroidism, Graves' disease, or Lupus.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments are common causes of POF. Other toxins such as cigarette smoke, chemicals, pesticides and viruses may hasten ovarian failure.

Risk Factors of POF

  Age. The risk of ovarian failure rises as you age. The incidence of developing premature ovarian failure is about one in 250 by age 35 and one in 100 by age 40.
  Family history. Having a family history of premature ovarian failure increases your risk of developing this disorder. About 10 percent of cases are familial.

Symptoms of POF:

• Irregular or skipped periods (amenorrhea)
• Hot flashes or night sweats
• Vaginal dryness (the vagina may also become thinner and less flexible)
• Irritability or difficulty concentrating
• Decreased sexual desire
• Emotional changes (irritability, mood swings, mild depression)
• Bladder irritability and worsening of loss of bladder control (incontinence)
• Dry skin, eyes, or mouth
• Sleeplessness
• Decreased sex drive
• Difficulty getting pregnant


Estrogen therapy

Replacing the estrogen that is normally produced by functioning ovaries is important to help prevent osteoporosis and relieve symptoms of estrogen deficiency, such as vaginal dryness and hot flashes. If estrogen is prescribed, you will probably also be given progesterone to protect the lining of your uterus (endometrium) from precancerous changes that can result if you take estrogen alone. Using estrogen and progesterone may cause you to have menstrual periods again. You will most likely continue taking hormonal therapy until about the age of 50 or 51 — the average age of natural menopause.

If you are concerned about using HRT because of reports linking long-term estrogen therapy to cardiovascular disease and breast cancer incidence in older women consider this: For young women with premature ovarian failure, the benefits of hormone replacement therapy usually outweigh the potential risks.

Calcium and Vitamin D supplements. These supplements (when taken together) are important for bone health and help reduce the development of osteoporosis.

As promised, here are links to a few very informative Web sites:
POFA - Premature Ovarian Failure Association  (a support group)
Mayo Clinic