Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI)

Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is the term used to describe when a woman’s ovaries stop working normally before she reaches the age of 40. POI is not the same as early or premature menopause. Many women with POI do not get monthly menstrual periods, or they have them irregularly. Problems with ovulation may make it difficult for women with POI to get pregnant. In addition, women with POI are at higher risk for certain health conditions, such as osteoporosis, than are women who do not have POI.

The NICHD studies a range of issues related to POI, including possible causes of and mechanisms involved with POI, conditions associated with POI, and treatments and support for the physical and emotional health of women and families affected by POI.

Common Name

  • Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI)

Medical or Scientific Names

  • Primary ovarian insufficiency
  • Premature menopause
  • Premature ovarian failure
  • Ovarian hypofunction
  • Hypergonadotropic hypogonadism
  • Fragile X-Associated POI (FXPOI), used to describe POI related to a specific genetic change

Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI): Condition Information

What is POI?

Health care providers use the term POI when a woman's ovaries stop working normally before she is 40 years of age.1,2

Many women naturally experience reduced fertility when they are around 40 years old. This age may mark the start of irregular menstrual periods that signal the onset of menopause. For women with POI, irregular periods and reduced fertility occur before the age of 40, sometimes as early as the teenage years.3,4

In the past, POI used to be called "premature menopause" or "premature ovarian failure," but those terms do not accurately describe what happens in a woman with POI. A woman who has gone through menopause will never have another normal period and cannot get pregnant. A woman with POI may still have periods, even though they might not come regularly, and she may still get pregnant.2,4

Who is at risk?

Several factors can affect a woman's risk for POI:

  • Family history. Women who have a mother or sister with POI are more likely to have the disorder. About 10% to 20% of women with POI have a family history of the condition.5
  • Genes. Some changes to genes and genetic conditions put women at higher risk for POI. Research suggests that these disorders and conditions cause as much as 28% of POI cases.6 For example:
    • Women who carry a variation of the gene for Fragile X syndrome are at higher risk for Fragile X-Associated POI (FXPOI).7 Fragile X syndrome is the most common inherited form of intellectual and developmental disability, but women with FXPOI do not have Fragile X syndrome itself. Instead, they have a change or mutation in the same gene that causes Fragile X syndrome, and this change is linked to FXPOI. Visit the What is the connection between POI and Fragile X syndrome? section of the site for more information.
    • Most women who have Turner syndrome develop POI. Turner syndrome is a condition in which a girl or woman is partially or completely missing an X chromosome. Most women are XX, meaning they have two X chromosomes. Women with Turner syndrome are X0, meaning one of the X chromosomes is missing.
  • Other factors. Autoimmune diseases, viral infections, chemotherapy, and other treatments also may put a woman at higher risk of POI.5

Citations

  1. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2009). Premature ovarian failure: ACOG medical student teaching module [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved January 3, 2012, from https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Adolescent-Health-Care/Primary-Ovarian-Insufficiency-in-Adolescents-and-Young-Women External Web Site Policy
  2. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. (2011). Premature ovarian failure. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/prematureovarianfailure.html
  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). Primary ovarian insufficiency in the adolescent External Web Site Policy : Committee opinion no. 502. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 118, 741–745.
  4. Nelson, L. M. (2009). Primary ovarian insufficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 360, 606–614.
  5. Cordts, E. B., Christofolini, D. M., Dos Santos, A. A., Bianco, B., & Barbosa, C. P. (2011). Genetic aspects of premature ovarian failure: A literature review. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 283, 635–643.
  6. Fridovich-Keil, J. L., Gubbels, C. S., Spencer, J. B., Sanders, R. D., Land, J. A., & Rubio-Gozalbo, E. (2011). Ovarian function in girls and women with GALT-deficiency galactosemia. Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disease, 34, 357–366.
  7. Trans-NIH Fragile X Research Coordinating Group and Scientific Working Groups. (2008). National Institutes of Health research plan on Fragile X syndrome and associated disorders. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from http://nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/Documents/NIH_Research_Plan_on_Fragile_X_and_Assoc_Disorders-06-2009.pdf
  8. (PDF - 439 KB)

What are the symptoms of POI?

The first sign of POI is usually menstrual irregularities or missed periods,1 which is sometimes called amenorrhea (pronounced ey-men-uh-REE-uh or uh-men-uh-REE-uh).

In addition, some women with POI have symptoms similar to those experienced by women who are going through natural menopause, including:

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Pain during sex
  • Vaginal dryness2,3

For many women with POI, trouble getting pregnant or infertility is the first symptom they experience and is what leads them to visit their health care provider. This is sometimes called “occult” (hidden) or early POI.4

Citations

  1. National Library of Medicine. (2011). Premature ovarian failure. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/prematureovarianfailure.html
  2. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2009). Premature ovarian failure: ACOG medical student teaching module [PowerPoint slides].
  3. National Center for Biotechnical Information. (2010). Ovarian hypofunction. Retrieved January 12, 2012, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001165.htm
  4. De Vos, M., Devroey, P., & Fauser, B. C. (2010). Primary ovarian insufficiency. Lancet, 376, 911–921.

What are the risks for POI?

Several factors can affect a woman's risk for POI:

  • Family history. Women who have a mother or sister with POI are more likely to have the disorder.3
  • Genes. Some changes to genes and genetic conditions put women at higher risk for POI. Research suggests that these disorders and conditions cause as much as 28% of POI cases.3 For example:
    • Women who carry a variation of the gene for Fragile X syndrome are at higher risk for Fragile X-Associated POI (FXPOI).4 Fragile X syndrome is the most common inherited form of intellectual and developmental disability, but women with FXPOI do not have Fragile X syndrome itself. Instead, they have a change or mutation in the same gene that causes Fragile X syndrome, and this change is linked to FXPOI. Visit the What is the connection between POI and Fragile X syndrome? section of the site for more information.
    • Most women who have Turner syndrome develop POI. Turner syndrome is a condition in which a girl or woman is partially or completely missing an X chromosome. Most women are XX, meaning they have two X chromosomes. Women with Turner syndrome are X0, meaning one of the X chromosomes is missing.
  • Other factors. Autoimmune diseases, viral infections, chemotherapy, and other treatments also may put a woman at higher risk of POI.2

Citations

  1. Coulam, C. B., & Stern, J. J. (1991). Immunology of ovarian failure. American Journal of Reproductive Immunology, 25¸169–174.
  2. Cordts, E. B., Christofolini, D. M., Dos Santos, A. A., Bianco, B., & Barbosa, C. P. (2011). Genetic aspects of premature ovarian failure: A literature review. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 283, 635–643.
  3. Fridovich-Keil, J. L., Gubbels, C. S., Spencer, J. B., Sanders, R. D., Land, J. A., & Rubio-Gozalbo, E. (2011). Ovarian function in girls and women with GALT-deficiency galactosemia. Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disease, 34, 357–366.
  4. Trans-NIH Fragile X Research Coordinating Group and Scientific Working Groups. (2008). National Institutes of Health research plan on Fragile X syndrome and associated disorders. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from http://nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/Documents/NIH_Research_Plan_on_Fragile_X_and_Assoc_Disorders-06-2009.pdf (PDF - 439 KB)

What causes POI?

In most cases, the exact cause of POI is unknown.1,2,3

Research shows that POI is related to problems with the follicles (pronounced FOL-i-kulz)—the small sacs in the ovaries in which eggs grow and mature.3

Follicles start out as microscopic seeds called primordial (pronounced prahy-MAWR-dee-uhl) follicles. These seeds are not yet follicles, but they can grow into them. Normally, a woman is born with approximately 2 million primordial follicles,4 typically enough to last until she goes through natural menopause, usually around age 50.2

For a woman with POI, there are problems with the follicles:5

  • Follicle depletion. A woman with follicle depletion runs out of working follicles earlier than normal or expected. In the case of POI, the woman runs out of working follicles before natural menopause occurs around age 50. Presently there is no safe way for scientists today to make primordial follicles.
  • Follicle dysfunction. A woman with follicle dysfunction has follicles remaining in her ovaries, but the follicles are not working properly. Scientists do not have a safe and effective way to make follicles start working normally again.3

Although the exact cause is unknown in a majority of cases, some causes of follicle depletion and dysfunction have been identified:

  • Genetic and chromosomal disorders. Disorders such as Fragile X syndrome and Turner syndrome can cause follicle depletion.3,4,6
  • Low number of follicles. Some women are born with fewer primordial follicles, so they have a smaller pool of follicles to use throughout their lives. Even though only one mature follicle releases an egg each month, less mature follicles usually develop along with that mature follicle and egg. Scientists don't understand exactly why this happens, but these "supporting" follicles seem to help the mature follicle function normally. If these extra follicles are missing, the main follicle will not mature and release an egg properly.
  • Autoimmune diseases. Typically, the body's immune cells protect the body from invading bacteria and viruses. However, in autoimmune diseases, immune cells turn on healthy tissue. In the case of POI, the immune system may damage developing follicles in the ovaries. It could also damage the glands that make the hormones needed for the ovaries and follicles to work properly. Several studies suggest that about one-fifth of with POI have an autoimmune disease.2,7
    • Thyroiditis (pronounced thahy-roi-DAHY-tis) is the autoimmune disorder most commonly associated with POI.7 It is an inflammation of the thyroid gland, which makes hormones that control metabolism, or the pace of body processes.
    • Addison's disease is also associated with POI. Addison's disease affects the adrenal glands, which produce hormones that help the body respond to physical stress, such as illness and injury; the hormones also affect ovary function.8 A small percentage of women with POI have Addison's disease.
  • Chemotherapy or radiation therapy. These strong treatments for cancer may damage the genetic material in cells, including follicle cells.1,3
  • Metabolic disorders. These disorders affect the body's ability to create, store, and use the energy it needs. For example, galactosemia (pronounced guh-lak-tuh-SEE-mee-uh) affects how your body processes galactose (guh-LAK-tohs), a type of sugar. A majority of women with galactosemia also have POI.7
  • Toxins. Cigarette smoke, chemicals, and pesticides can speed up follicle depletion. In addition, viruses have been shown to affect follicle function.2,4

Citations

  1. 1. Kodaman, P. H. (2010). Early menopause: Primary ovarian insufficiency and surgical menopause. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine, 28, 360–369. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20845236
  2. Nelson, L. M. (2009). Primary ovarian insufficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 360, 606–614. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19196677
  3. De Vos, M., Devroey, P., & Fauser, B. C. (2010). Primary ovarian insufficiency. Lancet, 376, 911–921. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20708256
  4. Welt, C. K. (2008). Primary ovarian insufficiency: A more accurate term for premature ovarian failure. Clinical Endocrinology, 68, 499–509. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17970776
  5. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee Opinion of Primary Ovarian Insufficiency. https://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Adolescent-Health-Care/Primary-Ovarian-Insufficiency-in-Adolescents-and-Young-Women External Web Site Policy
  6. Cordts, E. B., Christofolini, D. M., Dos Santos, A. A., Bianco, B., & Barbosa, C. P. (2011). Genetic aspects of premature ovarian failure: A literature review. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 283, 635–643. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21188402
  7. Rebar, R. W. (2009). Premature ovarian failure. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 113, 1355–1363. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19461434
  8. National Center for Biotechnical Information. (2009). Addison's disease. Retrieved January 12, 2012, from https:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0030132/

How do health care providers diagnose POI?

The key signs of POI are:

  • Missed or irregular periods for 4 months, typically after having had regular periods for a while
  • High levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
  • Low levels of estrogen1,2,3

If a woman is younger than age 40 and begins having irregular periods or stops having periods for 4 months or longer, her health care provider may take these steps to diagnose the problem:

  • Do a pregnancy test. This test will rule out an unexpected pregnancy as the reason for missed periods.2
  • Do a physical exam. During the physical exam, the health care provider looks for signs of other disorders. In some cases, the presence of these other disorders will rule out POI. Or, if the other disorders are associated with POI, such as Addison's disease, a health care provider will know that POI may be present.2
  • Collect blood. The health care provider will collect your blood and send it to a lab, where a technician will run several tests, including:
    • Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) test. FSH signals the ovaries to make estrogen, sometimes called the "female hormone" because women need high levels of it for fertility and overall health. If the ovaries are not working properly, as is the case in POI, the level of FSH in the blood increases. The health care provider may do two FSH tests, at least a month apart. If the FSH level in both tests is as high as it is in women who have gone through menopause, then POI is likely.2
    • Luteinizing (pronounced LOO-tee-uh-nahyz-ing) hormone (LH) test. LH signals a mature follicle to release an egg. Women with POI have high LH levels, more evidence that the follicles are not functioning normally.4
    • Estrogen test. In women with POI, estrogen levels are usually low, because the ovaries are not functioning properly in their role as estrogen producers.4
    • Karyotype (pronounced KAR-ee-uh-tahyp) test. This test looks at all 46 of your chromosomes to check for abnormalities. The karyotype test could reveal genetic changes in the structure of chromosomes that might be associated with POI and other health problems.2,4
  • Do a pelvic ultrasound. In this test, the health care provider uses a sound wave (sonogram) machine to create and view pictures of the inside of a woman's pelvic area. A sonogram can show whether or not the ovaries are enlarged or have multiple follicles.2,5

The health care provider will also ask questions about a woman's medical history. He or she may ask about:

  • A blood relative with POI or its symptoms
  • A blood relative with Fragile X syndrome or an unidentified intellectual or developmental disability
  • Ovarian surgery
  • Radiation or chemotherapy treatment
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or other sexually transmitted infections
  • An endocrine disorder, such as diabetes2

If they do not do tests to rule out POI, some health care providers might assume missed periods are related to stress.2 However, this approach is problematic because it will lead to a delay in diagnosis; further evaluation is needed.2

Citations

  1. De Vos, M., Devroey, P., & Fauser, B. C. (2010). Primary ovarian insufficiency. Lancet, 376, 911–921.
  2. Nelson, L. M. (2009). Primary ovarian insufficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 360, 606–614.
  3. Rebar, R. W. (2009). Premature ovarian failure. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 113(6), 1355–1363.
  4. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2009). Premature ovarian failure. ACOG medical student teaching module [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved January 3, 2012, from https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Adolescent-Health-Care/Primary-Ovarian-Insufficiency-in-Adolescents-and-Young-Women External Web Site Policy
  5. Kodaman, P. H. (2010). Early menopause: Primary ovarian insufficiency and surgical menopause. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine, 28, 360–369.

Are there disorders or conditions associated with POI?

Because POI results in lower levels of certain hormones, women with POI are at greater risk for a number of health conditions, including:

  • Osteoporosis. The hormone estrogen helps keep bones strong. Without enough estrogen, women with POI often develop osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a bone disease that causes weak, brittle bones that are more likely to break and fracture.1
  • Low thyroid function. This problem also is called hypothyroidism (pronounced hahy-puh-THAHY-roi-diz-uhm). The thyroid is a gland that makes hormones that control your body’s metabolism and energy level. Low levels of the hormones made by the thyroid can affect your metabolism and can cause very low energy and mental sluggishness. Cold feet and constipation are also features of low thyroid function. Some women with POI also have low thyroid function.2
  • Anxiety and depression. Hormonal changes caused by POI can contribute to anxiety or lead to depression.3 Women diagnosed with POI can be shy, anxious in social settings, and may have low self-esteem more often than women without POI.2 It is possible that depression may contribute to POI.3
  • Cardiovascular (heart) disease. Lower levels of estrogen, as seen in POI, can affect the muscles lining the arteries and can increase the buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. Both factors increase the risk of atherosclerosis (pronounced ath-uh-roh-skluh-ROH-sis)—or hardening of the arteries—which can slow or block the flow of blood to the heart. Women with POI have higher rates of illness and death from heart disease than do women without POI.1,4,5
  • Dry eye syndrome and ocular (eye) surface disease. Some women with POI have one of these conditions, which cause discomfort and may lead to blurred vision.2 If not treated, these conditions can cause permanent eye damage.

Addison’s disease is also associated with POI. Addison’s disease is a life-threatening condition that affects the adrenal glands, which produce hormones that help the body respond to physical stress, such as illness and injury. These hormones also affect ovary function.6 A small percentage of women with POI have Addison's disease.7

Citations

  1. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2009). Premature ovarian failure. ACOG medical student teaching module [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved January 3, 2012, from https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Adolescent-Health-Care/Primary-Ovarian-Insufficiency-in-Adolescents-and-Young-Women External Web Site Policy
  2. Nelson, L. M. (2009). Primary ovarian insufficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 360, 606–614.
  3. Schmidt, P. J., Luff, J. A., Haq, N. A., Vanderhoof, V. H., Koziol, D. E., Calis, K. A., et al. (2011). Depression in women with spontaneous 46, XX primary ovarian insufficiency. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 96, E278–E287.
  4. De Vos, M., Devroey, P., & Fauser, B. C. (2010). Primary ovarian insufficiency. Lancet, 376, 911–921.
  5. Kodaman, P. H. (2010). Early menopause: Primary ovarian insufficiency and surgical menopause. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine, 28, 360–369.
  6. National Center for Biotechnical Information, PubMed Health. (2009). Addison’s disease.
  7. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2007). Premature ovarian failure. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/poi

What are the treatments for POI?

Currently, there is no proven treatment to restore normal function to a woman's ovaries.1,2 But there are treatments for some of the symptoms of POI, as well as treatments and behaviors to reduce health risks and conditions associated with POI.

It is also important to note that between 5% and 10% of women with POI get pregnant without medical intervention after they are diagnosed with POI.3 Some research suggests that these women go into what is known as "spontaneous remission" of POI, meaning that the ovaries begin to function normally on their own. When the ovaries are working properly, fertility is restored and the women can get pregnant.3

Select a link below to learn more about common treatments for POI and its associated conditions.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Calcium and vitamin D supplements
Regular physical activity and healthy body weight
Treatments for associated conditions
Emotional support
POI in Teens

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

HRT is the most common treatment for women with POI. It gives the body the estrogen and other hormones that the ovaries are not making. HRT improves sexual health and decreases the risks for cardiovascular disease (including heart attacks, stroke, and high blood pressure) and osteoporosis.4

If a woman with POI begins HRT, she is expected to start having regular periods again. In addition, HRT is expected to reduce other symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats, and help maintain bone health.1,5,6,7 HRT will not prevent pregnancy, and evidence suggests it might improve pregnancy rates for women with POI by lowering high levels of luteinizing hormone — which stimulates ovulation — to normal in some women.8

HRT is usually a combination of an estrogen and a progestin. A progestin is a form of progesterone. Sometimes, the combination might also include testosterone, although this approach is controversial.9 HRT comes in several forms: pills, creams, gels, patches that stick onto the skin, an intrauterine device, or a vaginal ring.10 Estradiol is the natural form of human estrogen. The optimal method of providing estradiol to women with POI is by a skin patch or vaginal ring. These methods are linked with a lower risk of potentially fatal blood clots developing. Most women require a dose of 100 micrograms of estradiol per day. It is important to take a progestin along with estradiol to balance out the effect of estrogen on the lining of the womb. Women who do not take a progestin along with estradiol are at increased risk of developing endometrial cancer. The progestin with the best evidence available to support use in women with POI is 10 mg of medroxyprogesterone acetate by mouth per day for the first 12 calendar days of each month.

A health care provider may suggest that a woman with POI take HRT until she is about 50 years old, the age at which menopause usually begins.

After that time, she should talk with her health care provider about stopping the treatment because of risks associated with using this type of therapy in the years after the normal age of menopause.3

Is it safe for women with POI to take HRT?

In general, HRT treatment for women with POI is safe and is associated with only minimal side effects. Women with POI take HRT to replace hormones their bodies would normally be making if they didn't have POI.

The HRT taken by women with POI is different from the hormone therapies taken by women who are going through or have gone through natural menopause, which are often called menopausal or post-menopausal hormone therapy (PMHT).

A large, long-term study—called the Women's Health Initiative—examined the effects of a specific type of PMHT, taken for more than 5 years, by women ages 50 to 79 who had already gone through menopause. This study showed that PMHT was associated with an increased risk of stroke, blood clots, heart disease, heart attacks, and breast cancer in these women.11

These results do not apply to young women with POI who take HRT.3,10 The type and amount of HRT prescribed to women with POI is different from the PMHT taken by older women.3

A woman should talk to her health care provider if she has questions about HRT as a treatment for POI. Also, she should tell her health care provider about any side effects she experiences while taking HRT. There are many different types of HRT. Women should work with their health care providers to find out the best type of treatment.

Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements

Because women with POI are at higher risk for osteoporosis, they should get at least 1,200 to 1,500 mg of elemental calcium and 1000 IU (international units) of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium, every day.12 These nutrients are important for bone health.10 A health care provider may do a bone mineral density test to check for bone loss.8

Regular Physical Activity and Healthy Body Weight

Weight-bearing physical activity, such as walking, jogging, and stair climbing, helps build bone strength and prevents osteoporosis.10 Maintaining a healthy body weight and getting regular physical activity are also important for reducing the risk of heart disease. These factors can affect cholesterol levels, which in turn can change the risk for heart disease.13

Treatments for Associated Conditions

POI is associated with other health conditions, including (but not limited to) Addison's disease, Fragile X permutation, thyroid dysfunction, depression, anxierty, and certain other genetic, metabolic, and autoimmune disorders.

Women who have POI as well as one of these associated conditions will require additional treatment for the associated condition. In some cases, treatment involves medication or hormone therapy. Other types of treatments might also be needed.

Emotional Support

For many women who experience infertility, including those with POI, feelings of loss are common. In one study, almost 9 out of 10 women reported feeling moderate to severe emotional distress when they learned of their POI diagnosis.10, 14Several organizations offer help finding these types of professionals. Visit the Resources and Publications section for more information.

POI in Teens16

Receiving a diagnosis of POI can be emotionally difficult for teenagers and their parents. A teen may have a similar emotional experience as an adult who receives the diagnosis, but there are many aspects of the experience that are unique to being a teenager. It is important for parents, the teenager, and health care providers to work closely together to ensure that the teenager gets the right treatment and maintains her emotional and physical health in the long term. There are resources to provide advice and support for parents, teenagers, and health care providers. Visit the Resources and Publications section for more information.

Citations

  1. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2009). Premature ovarian failure. ACOG medical student teaching module [PowerPoint slides].
  2. National Library of Medicine. (2011). Premature ovarian failure. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/prematureovarianfailure.html [top]
  3. Nelson, L. M. (2009). Primary ovarian insufficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 360, 606–6.
  4. Shelling, A. N. (2010). Premature ovarian failure. Reproduction, 140, 633-641.
  5. Fridovich-Keil, J. L., Gubbels, C. S., Spencer, J. B., Sanders, R. D., Land, J. A., & Rubio-Gozalbo, E. (2011). Ovarian function in girls and women with GALT-deficiency galactosemia. Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disease, 34, 357–366.
  6. National Institutes of Health. (2010). Too young for hot flashes? When menopause-like symptoms come too soon. NIH News in Health. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/jun2010/feature2
  7. Rebar, R. W. (2009). Premature ovarian failure. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 113(6), 1355–1363.
  8. Popat, V.B., Vanderhoof, V.H., Calis, K.A., Troendle, J.F., & Nelson, L.M. (2008). Normalization of serum lutenizing hormone levels in women with 46,XX spontaneous primary ovarian insufficiency. Fertility and Sterility, 89(2), 429-433
  9. Kodaman, P. H. (2010). Early menopause: Primary ovarian insufficiency and surgical menopause. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine, 28, 360–369.
  10. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. (2010). Estrogen vaginal. Retrieved February 24, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a606005.html
  11. NHLBI. (n.d.). Women's Health Initiative background and overview. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/science/womens-health-initiative-whi
  12. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. (2010). DRIs for calcium and vitamin D. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2010/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Calcium-and-Vitamin-D/Vitamin%20D%20and%20Calcium%202010%20Report%20Brief.pdf External Web Site Policy (PDF - 320 KB)
  13. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2009). At-a-glance: What you need to know about high blood cholesterol. Retrieved May 23, 2012, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/cholesterol_atglance.pdf (PDF - 2.15 MB)
  14. Groff, A. A., Covington, S. N., Halverson, L. R., Fitzgerald, O. R., Vanderhoof, V., Calis, K., et al. (2005). Assessing the emotional needs of women with spontaneous premature ovarian failure. Fertility and Sterility, 83, 1734–1741.
  15. Ventura, J. L., Fitzgerald, O. R., Koziol, D. E., Covington, S. N., Vanderhoof, V. H., Calis, K. A., et al. (2007). Functional well-being is positively correlated with spiritual well-being in women who have spontaneous premature ovarian failure. Fertility and Sterility ;87: 584–590.
  16. Covington, S. N., Hillard, P. J., Sterling, E. W., Nelson, L. M., & POI Recovery Group. (2011). A family systems approach to primary ovarian insufficiency. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, 24, 137–141.

What is the connection between POI & Fragile X syndrome?

In some women, POI is associated with a change or mutation in the gene that causes Fragile X syndrome. This condition is called Fragile X-associated POI, or FXPOI.

Fragile X syndrome is the most common inherited cause of intellectual and developmental disability. It results from a mutation (change) in the Fragile X Mental Retardation (FMR1) gene, which is located on the X chromosome.

Women who have FXPOI do not have Fragile X syndrome or symptoms of intellectual or developmental disability. They have what is called a "premutation" of the gene—a smaller change in the gene that does not affect intellectual or developmental functioning. Instead, the premutation somehow affects the ovaries and how they function.

Estimates suggest that about 1 woman in 250 has the genetic premutation linked to FXPOI.1 Among women with POI, about 1 in 33 has the FMR1 gene premutation, meaning they actually have FXPOI.2

If you have POI and are concerned about the FMR1 premutation, talk to your health care provider about genetic testing for the condition.2,3

If you already know you have the FMR1 premutation, talk with your health care provider about finding out if you have FXPOI.4

For more information about FXPOI, visit the Fragile X-Associated Primary Ovarian Insufficiency section of this website.

Citations

  1. Trans-NIH Fragile X Research Coordinating Group and Scientific Working Groups. (2008). National Institutes of Health Research Plan on Fragile X Syndrome and Associated Disorders. Rockville, MD: NIH, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved January 4, 2012, from http://nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/Documents/NIH_Research_Plan_on_Fragile_X_and_Assoc_Disorders-06-2009.pdf (PDF - 440 KB)
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2010). Premature ovarian failure: Coping and support. Retrieved March 13, 2012, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/kidney-stones/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355759 External Web Site Policy
  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Committee opinion no. 469: Carrier screening for fragile X syndrome. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116, 1008–1010.
  4. American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). (2008). Assisted Reproductive Technologies: A Guide for Patients. Birmingham, AL.

What are my family planning options if I have POI?

POI causes infertility for most women with the condition. At this time, there is no proven medical treatment that improves your ability to get pregnant naturally if you have POI.1

If you have been diagnosed with POI, don't rush into making decisions about family planning. Take time to talk with your health care provider and to research your options. Share your feelings with your partner, and listen to your partner's feelings.2

If you have POI and want to have children, consider the following options:

See if pregnancy occurs naturally. Between 5% and 10% of women with POI do get pregnant, even though they have not had fertility treatment. Sometimes pregnancy can occur many years after the initial POI diagnosis. Researchers don't know why some women with POI get pregnant while others do not, and researchers can't predict which women will get pregnant.3

Adoption or foster parenting. When considering adoption or foster parenting, it's important to learn about the benefits, risks, and legal aspects of the process, in addition to the possible emotional effects. For more information about adoption, consult the resources in the Resources and Publications section.

Donor Eggs. Research has shown that in vitro (pronounced in VEE-troh) fertilization (IVF) with donor eggs is an effective way for women who have POI to get pregnant.1

IVF with donor eggs involves removing eggs from another woman's ovary, then fertilizing the eggs with sperm in a laboratory. A fertilized egg—called an embryo (pronounced EM-bree-oh)—is then placed into your uterus. During the IVF process, the donor takes hormones to prepare for egg donation, and you take hormones to prepare your body for pregnancy.4

Sometimes, more than one embryo is placed into the uterus to increase the likelihood of a successful pregnancy. More eggs may be fertilized than are transferred; you may choose to freeze extra embryos, called cryopreservation (pronounced krahy-oh-prez-er-VEY-shuhn), in case you try IVF again.5

IVF with donor eggs, like all medical procedures, has benefits and risks, some of them serious.4 Some studies suggest that women with POI who get pregnant with egg donation may have a higher risk of delivering a baby that is small for its gestational age (smaller than the usual size of babies that far along in pregnancy). They may also be more likely to have pregnancy-related high blood pressure3 and heavy bleeding after giving birth. More studies are needed to understand these risks and their relationship to POI. Discuss all the risks and benefits with your health care provider and your family before making a decision about IVF with donor eggs.

Not all insurance companies provide coverage for IVF and donor eggs, so it may be necessary for you to cover the entire cost of the process. Also, it may be necessary to try the procedure several times before it is successful.4

Medical Therapies that Don't Work for POI-related Infertility

Randomized clinical trials, which are the strongest type of trial measuring a treatment's impact, have proven that some medical therapies for infertility—including infertility related to POI—are ineffective. These medical therapies include treatments based on high-dose estrogen, corticosteroids, gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists and antagonists, as well as treatment with a type of testosterone called danazol (Danocrine®). Health care providers recommend avoiding unproven fertility treatments because they actually may reduce your chances of getting pregnant naturally.

If You have POI and Do Not Want to Become Pregnant

Remember that pregnancy can occur in women who have POI. Therefore, if you do not want to get pregnant, you need to take steps to prevent pregnancy by using contraception (birth control).

Because of problems with ovulation that are associated with POI, birth control pills may not be effective at preventing pregnancy in women with POI. Studies show that using a barrier method of contraception, such as a diaphragm or a condom, is a more effective option.4 Discuss your birth control needs with your health care provider.

Citations

  1. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2003). Do I have premature ovarian failure (POF)? Retrieved February 25, 2012.
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2010). Premature ovarian failure: Coping and support. Retrieved March 13, 2012, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/kidney-stones/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355759 External Web Site Policy
  3. Nelson, L. M. (2009). Primary ovarian insufficiency. New England Journal of Medicine, 360, 606–614. [top]
  4. American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). (2008). Assisted Reproductive Technologies: A Guide for Patients. Birmingham, AL.
  5. ASRM. (2006). Third party reproduction (sperm, egg, and embryo donation and surrogacy): a guide for patients. Birmingham, AL.

Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI): NICHD Research Goals

In its aim to understand, treat, and prevent infertility, the NICHD conducts and supports laboratory research, clinical trials, and epidemiological studies that look at normal ovarian function and at how changes in that function impact overall health as well as fertility. Although much of this research is not specific to POI, our understanding of the condition benefits from these activities.

This research includes, but is not limited to:

  • Investigations in genetics, genomics, and epigenetics and studies about how these factors and processes influence typical and atypical development and function, including ovarian development and function
  • Basic biophysical mechanisms that underlie cell biology and tissue function and how these factors influence development that specifically targets the nervous, endocrine, and reproductive systems
  • Improving existing diagnostics and creating new methods for detecting and diagnosing endocrine, metabolic, and reproductive diseases
  • Integrated programs of basic, clinical, and translational research in developmental biology, endocrinology, neuroendocrinology, genetics, epigenetics, and other factors relevant to reproductive system disorders
  • Research on the quality of gametes (precursors of sperm and eggs)
  • Studies of the relationships among diet, reproduction, development, and infertility
  • Research on fertility preservation and on how these types of assisted reproductive technologies may affect health and developmental outcomes

Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI): Research Activities and Scientific Advances

The causes of POI are still little understood. Although many of its symptoms can be treated successfully, infertility is unavoidable in most women with POI. Understanding more about the complex biology behind the condition will help scientists as they work to devise more effective ways to treat symptoms and, ultimately, to prevent the condition from developing. The NICHD conducts and supports research on genes, hormones, and other contributory factors in its push to improve understanding and make further headway against POI.

Institute Activities and Advances

Researchers in the NICHD's Division of Intramural Research (DIR) are studying genetic factors that are known to cause or contribute to POI. NICHD researchers in the Program in Reproductive and Adult Endocrinology (PRAE) and those funded by the NICHD have identified several genes more common in women with POI than in women who do not have the disorder. One of these genes is FMR1, mutations in which are known to cause Fragile X syndrome; certain mutations in this gene have been linked to Fragile X-Associated POI (FXPOI). Other genes being investigated are BMP15, DAZL, and FOXO3.

Researchers are also investigating the causal role of autoimmunity in POI. Researchers in the NICHD's Section on Epigenetics and Development compared women with and without POI. They discovered that several autoimmune diseases were more common among women with POI, especially if they also had Turner syndrome. The findings suggest that factors contributing to the ovarian insufficiency seen in POI also might play a role in autoimmunity.

PRAE researchers also identified a potential target of the autoimmune response that causes some cases of POI and were able to slow the immune system attack on the ovaries in mice with POI. For details on this finding, visit NIH Researchers Slow Immune Attack on Ovaries in Mice.

Other research supported by the Fertility and Infertility (FI) Branch has addressed issues related to eggs, their quality, and their quantity in POI, as well as ways to save the eggs as a way to preserve fertility. FI Branch research also examines various methods of assisted reproductive technology and their effectiveness.

In addition to the physical components of POI, the NICHD aims to reveal new evidence about the emotional aspects of the disorder so that health care providers can offer appropriate psychological support to women with POI. PRAE research has shown that women with POI are much more likely than other women to experience depression at some point during their lives.1 Future studies will investigate whether hormonal changes, perhaps combined with a particular genetic makeup, might predispose some women to depression and anxiety.

PRAE research also showed that two-thirds of women were dissatisfied with the way they received their POI diagnosis from their health care provider. In addition, research has pointed to the positive role spirituality plays in patients' ability to cope with their diagnosis and suggest therapeutic avenues for reducing emotional suffering.2

Other Activities and Advances

  • The National Centers for Translational Research in Reproduction and Infertility (NCTRI) (Formerly the Specialized Cooperative Centers Program in Reproduction and Infertility Research [SCCPIR]) is a national network of research-based centers, supported by the FI Branch, that aims to promote interactions between basic and clinical scientists with the goal of improving reproductive health.
  • Researchers working for and with support from across the NIH have made significant advances in the understanding of the FMR1 gene and its relationship to Fragile X syndrome, Fragile X-Associated Tremor and Ataxia Syndrome and FXPOI. The NIH Research Plan on Fragile X Syndrome and Associated Disorders outlines research opportunities related to these three disorders and helps coordinate research and promote timely detection, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of these disorders.
  • In 2008, the NICHD co-sponsored a conference to devise a new approach to addressing ovarian insufficiency. The Institute joined other Institutes and organizations in the field to convene the conference, Orphan Mechanisms of Primary Ovarian Insufficiency: Passion for Participatory Research. The meeting recommended establishing an international research consortium and disease registry for POI, formed under the guidance of an umbrella organization, to provide a means of increasing basic and clinical knowledge about the disease.3

Citations

  1. Schmidt, P. J., Luff, J. A., Haq, N. A., Vanderhoof, V. H., Koziol, D. E., Calis, K. A., et al. (2011). Depression in women with spontaneous 46, XX primary ovarian insufficiency. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 96, E278-E287.
  2. Ventura, J. L., Fitzgerald, O. R., Koziol, D. E., Covington, S. N., Vanderhoof, V. H., Calis, K. A., et al. (2007). Functional well-being is positively correlated with spiritual well-being in women with spontaneous premature ovarian failure. Fertility and Sterility, 87, 584-490.
  3. Cooper, A. R., Baker, V. L., Sterling, E. W., Ryan, M. E., Woodruff, T. K., & Nelson, L. M. (2010). The time is now for a new approach to primary ovarian insufficiency. Fertility and Sterility, 95, 1890–1897.  
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