Current treatments for primary ovarian insufficiency (sometimes referred to as premature ovarian insufficiency or primary ovarian failure) cannot restore full functioning of your ovaries. However, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help manage your symptoms.
Additionally, most people with this condition won’t conceive naturally, but in vitro fertilization (IVF) with donor eggs may be a good option. There are also steps you can take to prevent long-term health risks from primary ovarian insufficiency.
Read on to learn more about treatment options, preventing long-term complications, and coping with infertility.
Primary ovarian insufficiency is when the ovaries stop working properly before age 40. This can happen as early as the teen years. Other names for this are primary ovarian insufficiency or premature ovarian insufficiency.
In primary ovarian insufficiency, the ovaries retain some function, but you also won’t ovulate every month. While most women with primary ovarian insufficiency can no longer conceive naturally, some may still need to use contraception.
The way premature ovarian insufficiency manifests in terms of periods can be different for everyone. If you continue have periods, but they’ll most likely be light and irregular. Many people will stop getting a period altogether.
The cause of primary ovarian insufficiency isn’t always clear, but it has to do with the ovaries’ follicles. Follicles are sacs in the ovaries that hold your eggs. During a healthy menstrual cycle, a follicle releases an egg during ovulation.
A decline in ovarian function may be due to:
- decrease in the number of follicles
- increase in follicle destruction
- poor follicular response to hormones
Currently, there are no treatments to reverse primary ovarian insufficiency. The goals of treatment are to:
- manage symptoms
- lower your risk of developing osteoporosis and heart disease
- talk about your options for family planning, if desired
Treating any coexisting health conditions will also likely help. This may be especially true if you have an autoimmune or endocrine condition such as thyroid disease.
Hormone replacement therapy
The main treatment for primary ovarian insufficiency is HRT. That’s because your ovaries are no longer producing enough estrogen and other important hormones. Estrogen isn’t just important to the menstrual cycle. It also affects your:
- cardiovascular system
- musculoskeletal system
- urinary tract
- skin and hair
- mucous membranes
HRT can effectively replace the hormones you’re missing to:
- improve sexual health
- reduce symptoms like:
- restore regular periods
- lower your long-term risk of heart disease and osteoporosis
- improve your quality of life
- improve your ability to get pregnant in some cases
There are quite a few ways to take HRT, including:
- skin patches
- vaginal ring
- intrauterine device (IUD)
Some of the devices above only contain progesterone, while others contain a combination of estrogen and progesterone. Talk with your doctor about which type might work best for you.
Fertility treatments and birth control
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know who can pregnant and who cannot.
If you want to get pregnant and have had difficultly conceiving, IVF with donor eggs may be the best option. You’ll need to take hormones to prepare your body for pregnancy. One or more donor eggs will be fertilized with sperm in a laboratory, then placed in your uterus. You can also freeze some of these eggs in case you want to try again at a later time.
Successful pregnancy and live birth rates depend on your age and other health factors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers an
Your doctor can also refer you to a fertility expert for a more personal assessment.
Low hormone levels can increase the risk of osteoporosis. This is a condition where bones become thinner and weaker, making them more prone to fractures. Your doctor may want to conduct a bone density test to assess your risk.
Calcium is important for bone health, and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Ask a doctor if you should take calcium and vitamin D supplements and, if so, in what amounts.
A 2014 review of studies found that Chinese herbal treatments may reduce symptoms of primary ovarian insufficiency when compared to HRT. More research is needed to figure out proper dosages, as well as the safety and effectiveness of herbal treatments for symptoms of primary ovarian insufficiency.
Herbal medicines can have side effects and interact with other medications. It’s important to have talk with a doctor about these products, as well as natural remedies for your specific symptoms.
Regular aerobic exercise can help manage weight, cholesterol, and other factors related to developing heart disease. You can also promote bone strength with weight-bearing exercises and resistance training activities such as:
Alternating your workouts can help exercise all your major muscle groups.
If you were planning on getting pregnant now or in the future, learning you may not be able to conceive on your own can be difficult to process. Infertility issues can affect relationships, and the hormonal changes you’re going through can contribute to anxiety and depression.
Whether your feelings around infertility or the diagnosis itself has been difficult, you don’t have to cope with them alone. Ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist with experience in primary ovarian insufficiency or infertility.
Many find that it helps to connect with others who are going through the same thing. You can find this type of support through these organizations:
Primary ovarian insufficiency is also known as premature ovarian insufficiency. It’s a condition in which the ovaries lose function before age 40. This can cause symptoms similar to those of menopause and can result in infertility.
The main treatment is HRT. This treatment is typically continued until around age 50, which is in the typical age for the start of menopause. You can also take steps to lower your risks of developing early osteoporosis and heart disease.
A small percentage of people with primary ovarian insufficiency get pregnant naturally. But if you know you want to get pregnant, IVF with donor eggs may be the best option.
The diagnosis of primary ovarian insufficiency can take an emotional toll. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s worth looking for a therapist or support group that can help you cope.