- Are There Treatments That Can Ease the Symptoms of Perimenopause?
- Early menopause
- Causes of early menopause
- Perimenopause and 8 useful steps to take
- How can you manage the menopause naturally?
- What are the first signs of menopause? How do you know if you’re in perimenopause?
- Solutions: Look at these 8 ways to help manage your perimenopause:
- What is the average age for perimenopause?
- How is perimenopause diagnosed? Is there a test for menopause?
- How long does perimenopause last? – a gradual process of change
- How can I balance hormones naturally during menopause? Menopause is a time when hormone production is changing and rebalancing. Consider some of these natural therapies to restore balance at menopause.
- How can I prepare for perimenopause and menopause?
- A more detailed list of symptoms of perimenopause
- Can I become pregnant during perimenopause? Yes, you can!
- Join us
- Lately on the Blog
- Our Events – The M Word
- Stories – First-hand accounts of other women’s experiences of menopause
- Recognizing Early Menopause
- Too Young for Hot Flashes?
Are There Treatments That Can Ease the Symptoms of Perimenopause?
Many women get relief from hot flashes after taking low-dose birth control pills for a short time. Other options that may control hot flashes include the birth control skin patch, vaginal ring, and progesterone injections. Certain women should not use birth control hormones, so talk to your doctor to see if they are right for you.
You may also feel better if you do things that enhance your general well-being, such as:
- Stop smoking.
- Get more sleep and try going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day.
- Drink less alcohol.
- Get to a healthy weight and stay there.
- Get enough calcium in your diet.
- Ask your doctor if you should take a multivitamin.
Talk to your doctor if you are having problems with your sex drive. He or she may be able to recommend a counselor or therapist to help you and your partner work through this problem. Vaginal lubricants may also be recommended, if vaginal dryness is a problem.
Other treatments available to help with the various symptoms of perimenopause may include antidepressant medications for mood swings.
Talk to your doctor about your specific symptoms and goals of treatment. This will help him or her make a plan that is right for you.
Causes of early menopause
The ovaries stop working
Early menopause can happen naturally if a woman’s ovaries stop making normal levels of certain hormones, particularly the hormone oestrogen.
This is sometimes called premature ovarian failure, or primary ovarian insufficiency.
The cause of premature ovarian failure is often unknown, but in some women it may be caused by:
- chromosome abnormalities – such as in women with Turner syndrome
- an autoimmune disease – where the immune system starts attacking body tissues
- certain infections, such as tuberculosis, malaria and mumps – but this is very rare
Premature ovarian failure can sometimes run in families. This might be the case if any of your relatives went through the menopause at a very young age (20s or early 30s).
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can cause premature ovarian failure. This may be permanent or temporary.
Your risk of having an early menopause will depend on:
- your age – girls who haven’t yet reached puberty can tolerate stronger treatment than older women
- the type of treatment you’re given – different types of chemotherapy may affect the ovaries differently
- where on your body any radiotherapy is focused – your risk of developing premature menopause is higher if you have radiotherapy treatment around your brain or pelvis
Surgery to remove the ovaries
Surgically removing both ovaries will also bring on premature or early menopause.
For example, the ovaries may need to be removed during a hysterectomy (an operation to remove the womb).
Perimenopause and 8 useful steps to take
Perimenopause takes place over several years in advance of the menopause. It’s often the time when you experience the most common symptoms of menopause. At perimenopause you’ll still have periods so that can be confusing. Before I hit 47 I’d never heard of perimenopause now I think it’s the key to understanding and preparing for the menopause. For many of us, it’s all about Peri. Consider the eight helpful steps outlined below. Read other women’s first-hand accounts of their experiences below.
Aisling Grimley, My Second Spring – supporting you at perimenopause.
How can you manage the menopause naturally?
Menopause is one of the few certainties in life for women so, if you have the chance, get ready for it – mentally and physically. This is about investing in yourself for the future.
What are the first signs of menopause? How do you know if you’re in perimenopause?
In my experience, and chatting to thousands of women on My Second Spring over the years, the following symptoms are the first signs that you might be in perimenopause:
- Increased feelings of anxiety and low confidence – even panic attacks out of the blue
- Increased feelings of irritation (or rage!)
- Monthly period patterns changing – sometimes skipping, sometimes very heavy
- Tender breasts – they can be very painful, for example, when you take off your bra at night
- Intermittent hot flushes and night sweats – often if you’ve been out and consumed alcohol
- Vaginal dryness – painful sex and low libido
- Urinary leakage (when you cough, sneeze or run – no trampolining!) and increased urgency
- Fatigue and trouble sleeping – either problems dropping off or you wake during the night at 3am, 4am … Insomnia
Most of us find that these symptoms come and go and periods are still mainly present – adding to confusion as to what’s going on. Also, I find that no two women have the same cocktail of symptoms. Click on the links above to get more details of these symptoms and how to manage them. Many of us experience some of these symptoms but never put two and two together and realise it’s the menopause knocking on the door. I get a huge number of messages from second springers telling me that they thought they had a terminal disease or were going crazy or developing dementia. We need to chat about this a lot more. There’s no need to suffer in silence there are plenty of ways to treat these symptoms. Keep reading…!
Solutions: Look at these 8 ways to help manage your perimenopause:
1. Manage your Weight
Find out what your appropriate weight is and try to attain and maintain it. Read these great blogs about how to avoid weight gain at menopause.
2. Take Regular Exercise that you enjoy:
Take exercise at least 5 times a week to stay healthy mentally as well as physically. You should be aiming for 30 minutes every day. If you haven’t been exercising regularly start gently and build your stamina gradually. Include regular weight-bearing (carrying your own weight) exercise in your routine. Brisk walking is great. Cycling and swimming are great for cardiovascular health but not as good for weight bearing. Dancing is good too if you like dancing.
3. Diet and Nutrition
Develop good eating habits for your long-term health. No fad diets. Lots of us are nutritionally depleted at midlife – consult a nutritionist or your GP and see if you are in balance. For example, a blood test showed that I was deficient in B12 which accounted for my lack of energy. B Vitamins are essential to the smooth workings of many of our bodily functions. Make sure your diet is balanced with tons of vegetables, protein at every meal and lots of whole grains to keep blood sugars and hormones in balance
4. If you smoke, now’s the time to stop!
Get more sleep and try to develop regular sleeping habits – keep mobile phones and TVs out of the bedroom and try to make your bedroom a sanctuary of calm with full blackout of light at night. If you have problems sleeping avoid caffeine after 12-noon substitute with chamomile tea, adopt a regular bedtime routine and gradual unwinding and relaxation. Choose something you like – a lavender bath, a romantic novel, listening to a guided meditation…
6. Cut down on alcohol and caffeine in your diet
This will help sleep to better and manage weight more easily. Read Vogue Editor Christa D’Souza on the subject of giving up alcohol if you’d like some inspiration.
7. Take Charge!
Find some natural therapies and treatments that you find useful and stress releasing. Or discover a new therapy e.g. yoga, mindfulness, Feldenkrais or acupuncture.
8. Get Support!
Start the conversation with friends even if it makes you feel shy or vulnerable at first. There’s still a lot of hush-hush and shame around menopause but most women are relieved and delighted to discover friends are going through some of the same difficulties. Keep in touch with our regular blogs for further inspiration and information.
What is the average age for perimenopause?
Perimenopause, also known as menopause transition or climacteric (critical period), takes place over several years in advance of the menopause. According to the North American Menopause Society, perimenopause can last for 4 to 8 years. Which makes the average age for perimenopause around your mid to late 40s. The average age for menopause is approx 51 for most women. However, it is possible for perimenopause to start in the late 30s (early or premature menopause) and early 40s.
During perimenopause the ovaries gradually rebalance their oestrogen and progesterone production in preparation for the menopause and the final cessation of periods.
My Second Spring E-book
NEW TO MENOPAUSE? Try our e-book – The Best Friend’s Guide to the Menopause – €8
“So glad you have an ebook. Love the friendly approach & top tips. Highly recommend!” B
How is perimenopause diagnosed? Is there a test for menopause?
Very often the diagnosis of perimenopause is based simply on your age and symptoms. Your GP can take blood tests to check hormone levels as other diseases can sometimes convincingly mimic perimenopause, he/she may advise you to take several tests because of fluctuations in hormone levels. However, tests are often not conclusive as hormone balance is so individual and can vary from one day to the next and even varies greatly during the day.
Ultimately – the most important indicators come from within – i.e. how are you feeling? What symptoms are you experiencing? Use symptoms as clues – they may point to some underlying imbalance in your life – physical or psychological. How is your diet? Are you taking exercise? Are you looking after yourself of putting everyone else’s needs first? For many of us, perimenopause is like an MOT test – an opportunity to take stock and make lifestyle changes that will improve our well-being in preparation for the next phase of life.
How long does perimenopause last? – a gradual process of change
For most women, perimenopause is a completely normal, gradual process, and not a disease to be treated. Perimenopause lasts until full menopause, i.e. the time when the ovaries stop releasing eggs. In the last one to two years of perimenopause, our bodies create significantly less oestrogen and it is at this point that many of us experience the symptoms of menopause – typically when we are around 48 to 50 years of age.
Join us at My Second Spring – most of us are trying to figure out what stage of perimenopause we’re at
How can I balance hormones naturally during menopause? Menopause is a time when hormone production is changing and rebalancing. Consider some of these natural therapies to restore balance at menopause.
As hormone production in our ovaries slows down, your body is designed to produce oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, at other sites in the body. For instance, oestrogen, progesterone, and androgens are produced in the adrenal glands, body fat, the skin and the brain.
According to medical sources around 10% of women experiencing very difficult symptoms will require medical treatment such as HRT. The majority, however, will not require this treatment. If symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats become unbearable, HRT may provide relief for some women. For many women, symptoms can be managed through lifestyle changes such as adapting our diet and nutrition, taking exercise and learning to relax. Difficult symptoms may also be alleviated by using alternative or complementary treatments and therapies such as acupuncture, homoeopathy, reflexology and naturopathy.
Perimenopause becomes most evident when we are around age 48 or 49.
How can I prepare for perimenopause and menopause?
An opportunity to take stock
It is important that, mentally and physically, you are as healthy as possible as you enter this new phase of life. Perimenopause need not be a negative phase of life – use it as a time to consider what changes you would like to make as you look at your current lifestyle and circumstances. Consider ways to improve and support your natural health.
Are you looking after yourself? Is perimenopause the prompt you need to put yourself first?
Your endocrine system is responsible for hormone production and it works to rebalance hormones and manage the changes brought on by perimenopause. The endocrine system may be under pressure coping with the changes in our bodies during this phase of life and it may produce uncomfortable symptoms as a clear signal that changes need to take place. This is often the case if we have not been able to look after ourselves properly. For example, many of us are living under significant stress at home or at work. Often our diet fails to meet the body’s increased demands. You may be chronically ill, you may smoke or drink to excess. Many of our relationships can be draining and we may sleep badly. Overall, our energy reserves can be drained. During perimenopause the body may start to ring alarm bells by producing symptoms that make us stop, think and make necessary lifestyle changes – for ourselves. So, as I say again and again listen to your symptoms – they act as alarm bells, indicators that something is not right! You may just need to make some very small adjustments eg take a supplement to get back in balance
The sooner you realise that you are perimenopausal the better. By addressing the symptoms and spending some time and energy looking after your health will minimise the impact of menopause and ensure that you are in prime health for the second half of your life.
The Best Friend’s Guide: Anxiety – A Practical Toolkit For Moving Beyond Anxiety at Menopause – €12
Thanks Girls another great book ! Well done My Second Spring, the advice is practical, down to earth and I’m already working on my toolkit. Thank you so much
Time to put ourselves first! Perimenopause is a time to invest in us for OUR future!
A more detailed list of symptoms of perimenopause
Women may experience some of the following symptoms during perimenopause. Don’t panic you may experience very few of these symptoms or none at all! Click on individual links to get more details and a range of ways to manage these symptoms using a wide variety of techniques and adjustments. Consult your doctor or other health practitioner if you are concerned about any of your symptoms
- Changing periods – length of cycle, duration of period, flooding
- Hot flushes Cold Flushes
- Night Sweats
- Panic attacks
- Fatigue – tiredness or a loss of zest
- Anxiety, mood swings, irritability and depression
- A feeling of being invisible and a loss of confidence
- Decreased libido or sex drive
- Vaginal dryness
- Breast tenderness
- Increased PMS
- Urinary leakage or urgency
- Aches and pains in muscles and joints
- Diarrhoea and/or constipation
- Brain Fog
- Weight loss
- Dry Mouth
- Mouth Ulcers
- Bloating and flatulence
- Skin changes – acne, dry skin, oily skin,
- Skin itching
- Nausea and headaches – sometimes with vertigo
- Migraine headaches – ocular or aura migraines with vision problems like flashing light or spots.
- Hair Loss
- Changes in spatial perceptions and awareness leading to clumsiness and being accident prone.
Thanks Girls another great book ! Well done My Second Spring, the advice is practical, down to earth and I’m already working on my toolkit. Thank you so much
Can I become pregnant during perimenopause? Yes, you can!
As the ovaries are still producing eggs, albeit erratically, it is still possible to become pregnant during perimenopause. It is therefore advisable to use birth control until two years after your last period.
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Lately on the Blog
Have a look at our blog for inspiration on a very wide range of topics. If you’d like to share some thoughts feel free to comment or even write us a blog – why not? Join on our mailing list to remind yourself that we’re here with support for you at the often tricky time of life.
Recently on the blog – drop everything and do your plank now!
Our Events – The M Word
We’re currently working on the first menopause conference in Ireland, The M Word event will take place on October 11 2019 at the Radisson Hotel, St Helen’s. We have a smashing panel of expert speakers headlined by Meg Matthews and featuring Dr Mary Ryan, The Fabulous Pharmacist, Dr Katherine Mulrooney, Emily Power Smith, and many more fabulous women.
You’ll learn a lot from our panel of experts and of course from each other. Events are a lot of fun as well as being inspirational. It’s great to meet so many women and understand what’s really on their minds.
The star turn is our goodie bag packed full of brilliant products from our sponsors Linwoods, Davy, Vichy, Mag 365 and lots, lots more.
Make sure to book your ticket soon – I think this will be a sell-out event!!
Stories – First-hand accounts of other women’s experiences of menopause
There’s still a lot of shame and taboo around the subject of menopause so conversations can be limited amongst your peers Luckily some women have generously shared their personal stories, hearing someone else’s take and insights can give a lot of clarity to our own situation. I’m sure you’ll hear some stuff that resonates with you and some stories that will make you laugh out loud like Catherine’s story. Visit our stories section and have a read. I’ve shared My Aisling’s Menopause In 10 have a read and please drop me a line if you’d like to share your story to [email protected] Thanks for reading. xx Aisling
Recognizing Early Menopause
Hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, insomnia: You might expect these annoyances when you hit the half-century mark, but not in your mid-thirties, the prime of your life. And yet, 1 percent of women go through menopause before age 40, which medically qualifies as premature, or early, menopause — and that number is on the rise, according to a recent review out of the United Kingdom.
More accurately known as premature ovarian failure (POF), early menopause can strike at any age. It is also increasingly seen in women who have undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer at any point in their lives, says Geoffrey Redmond, MD, director of the Hormone Center of New York and author of It’s Your Hormones. In fact, the U.K. review found that POF affects some 30-40 percent of childhood cancer survivors who received a combination of both chemo and radiation.
What follows is a brief overview of key facts about premature menopause, its symptoms, and its ramifications.
What Causes Early Menopause?
If you’re going through menopause at age 38, chances are you’re just navigating the change a little earlier than most women. But if you stop getting periods in your 20s, the possibility of ovarian problems is much higher. Certain categories of women are more likely to experience early menopause. They include twins; women who have a family history of early menopause; women who have dysfunctional ovaries; women who have had cancer; and women with an autoimmune disease, such as thyroiditis or lupus
Unpredictable circumstances can also play a role in early menopause. “Something could have happened when your ovaries were being formed in utero, so that you start out with a lower number of eggs and your reproductive lifespan is shorter,” says Anne Ford, MD, OB-GYN at Duke University Medical Center. “What brings that on? No one really knows.” And as for the effects of lifestyle factors such as smoking, eating fatty foods, and enduring high levels of stress, experts say they appear to be marginal. “Smoking can cause a woman to go through menopause a year or two earlier, but it isn’t going to push a woman into menopause before the age of 40,” says Dr. Redmond.
Recognizing the Start of Menopause
Menopause is officially defined as the time when a woman’s menstrual periods have ceased for 12 months. If you go six months without a period, however, there’s a good chance you’re menopausal. “Part of the problem with defining menopause is that there’s no good diagnostic lab test to tell you when you’ve arrived,” says Dr. Ford. “And if you are still having periods, the actual hormone levels are essentially meaningless.”
A lot of women have a few hot flashes, and think they’re going through menopause – even if they’re only 26. But, says Redmond, “if you get flushed or hot once in awhile, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going through early menopause. It could be an environmental response — for instance, it takes the body a while to adjust to temperature changes, say, in spring and fall.” However, if you are younger than 40, your periods are getting lighter or you’re skipping them altogether, and you have hot flashes, night sweats, and you’re unexplainably irritable, you should certainly have a checkup.
One good option for women undergoing early menopause is hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which may help manage some of the more difficult symptoms, including hot flashes, declining sexual desire, and impaired sleep. But weighing the risks and benefits of HRT with your health care provider is an important first step. “I see women who are in their 30s who are afraid to go on HRT, but in general, HRT can be a great help,” says Redmond.
Managing Fertility and Early Menopause
Even though the average age of menopause is about age 51, your fertility gradually declines long before this time. It is already much lower by your early 40s, for instance, even if you’re not at risk for early menopause. “If having a child is vital to your life, it’s a good idea to start by your mid-30s,” says Dr. Redmond. “Society and biology are sort of out of sync in this regard.”
Want a more proactive approach? Talk to your doctor about preserving your eggs (medically known as oocyte cryopreservation). This process involves taking fertility drugs to boost your available egg supply. A doctor then retrieves as many of your eggs as possible, but rather than fertilizing and implanting them in your body, the eggs are frozen until you’re ready to get pregnant. Unfortunately, this option is only available if you still have viable eggs — before menopause begins — and even the most optimistic estimates offer only a slim chance of pregnancy. Cornell researchers reviewed 30 scientific studies and found that egg freezing for later implantation is four to five times less successful than standard in vitro fertilization, which has been shown to create a viable pregnancy in fewer than 30 percent of treatment cycles. Egg freezing can also be an expensive process and few insurance companies cover the costs.
If you’ve managed to escape early menopause, the best way to remain fertile as you get older is to keep your weight under control, exercise regularly, avoid fast food, and don’t smoke cigarettes. Some experts also speculate that taking birth control pills may help preserve fertility by giving the ovaries a rest; scientific evidence to support the theory, however, is lacking. “If birth control pills do have an effect on fertility, it’s a positive one, not a negative one as a lot of women fear,” says Redmond.
On the day of my fateful doctor’s appointment, I penciled in a mere hour out of my busy schedule to get in and out of her office and back to mine. Little did I know it’d be the day that turned my life upside down — the shock alone might’ve kept me shuttered away in my bedroom for weeks to come.
The news? My hormones had tested at post-menopausal levels. And I was still just 29. With that came my diagnosis of premature ovarian failure (POF).
As I emerged from that appointment, I felt a gut-wrenching sense of emptiness. I held my emotions together, and with a shell-shocked non-reactivity that betrayed the true turmoil waiting around the corner, I pulled out my cellphone and made a hurried call to my boss.
I immediately returned home then fell to the floor, belongings still attached, and wept for what seemed like an eternity.
My career was still in its infancy, but I’d managed to forge a path to a great position in a profession I loved.
In a single moment, everything about my life and career I’d held in such high esteem seemed to become worthless. Whatever accomplishments I could claim my own and the dreams I’d achieved — it all seemed to pale in comparison to this blow.
Crashing to my knees, I felt like my career, my ambitions, my life and my dreams went down with me.
Time passed, however, and this early outburst gave way to a mellower, but equally excruciating few weeks. Still in my late-20s, I simply couldn’t stop the grief about being suddenly infertile, the fears about my health and those feelings of vulnerability and lack of control.
Indeed, for the first time, I felt like my destiny was outside of my own hands — I felt like fodder for the type of magazine horror story I never believed could leave me in its wake.
Starting my own family was an integral part of the vision for my future that I’d painstakingly constructed in my dreams. But a host of other agonizing questions kept rattling around in my head too: Was I still attractive? Was I ‘old’? Was I still a real woman? Was I now exposed to myriad health risks because of low estrogen? I didn’t feel like me anymore.
I think I was numb for a day or two, then the full extent of my new reality hit me like a wall all over again. I kept trying to push my emotions aside, telling myself I could handle it, that it wasn’t that bad.
But inside I was breaking down. I had built a life, and I was convinced it was crumbling before my eyes. The blow of premature menopause had exposed a soft underbelly I’d long tried to hide — the delicacy of my self-image was exposed for all to see.
I had hit rock bottom.
As weeks turned to months, I became aware of my increasingly forlorn presence around friends and colleagues. I was incredibly fortunate to confide in so many supportive people, but I knew I had to turn a corner somehow.
My diagnosis of premature ovarian failure had temporarily stolen away my capacity to take joy and pleasure from the things I loved. This new reality had consumed me for long enough, and I began searching for the catalyst to right my state of mind.
Soon I discovered a local group and had the privilege to meet more and more women suffering similarly — often in total silence. Much to my surprise, I found a great number of women who’d not only gone through premature menopause but who’d suffered from a near identical emotional fallout as I had. Over time, I realized how common the issue was, and I found comfort and support among an entirely new group of peers.
In fact, research from Imperial College London suggests that around 6% of women go through menopause before the age of 40. The scientists behind this study also reported a ‘profound’ impact of a diagnosis on the quality of life of sufferers. It is believed that over 100,000 women per year enter menopause early in the USA alone, and the numbers appear to be growing.
Many years removed from the shock of my initial diagnosis, I now feel able to reflect on this change in my life with a greater degree of objectivity. What I found over time was that the feelings of grief and loss reduced in intensity and frequency. They never go away completely, but they do become more manageable.
As I speak to more and more women in that same situation, I urge them to have the patience to endure that gradual improvement.
I now realize that I’m still the same person — if anything, a little better of a person. Premature ovarian failure forced me to come to terms with many personal issues.
It made me think long and hard about who I really was, how I defined myself, what mattered in life. It pushed me to open up to other people, to speak out and to communicate what I felt and thought. It has made me grow.
I’m not going to pretend that I wouldn’t have preferred never having gone through menopause at such an early age. But I have discovered that the worst times do pass… and the good things in life do endure.
Over the years I’ve become increasingly passionate about connecting with and helping other women who’ve endured premature ovarian failure — from those just emerging from the initial shock of a diagnosis to those veterans (like myself!) moving on with our lives in positive ways.
This journey came full circle when I took on responsibility for our support website right here at EarlyMenopause.com. The singular goal here is to provide a compassionate resource for all, tailored to help and care for sufferers of POF and early menopause in an understanding environment.
Being involved with this online community has given me the special opportunity to give back to others starting out on a well-trodden path that can nevertheless seem deeply lonely. If you’ve been affected by premature menopause, or you know someone that has, please don’t hesitate to point them in our direction. Right now, our contact form is swamped with requests for help from women across the world and we do our best to help everyone. However, the more women that join in with our community, the more we can turn this into a collaborative platform as well. That is the ultimate goal.
Premature ovarian failure (POF) remains an under-recognized women’s health issue, but together there is no limit to the progress we can make with open sharing and discussion.
Too Young for Hot Flashes?
When Menopause-Like Symptoms Come Too Soon
Hot flashes, night sweats, loss of regular menstrual periods and sleep problems. These familiar symptoms of menopause appear in most women around age 50. But if they arise before age 40—which happens for about 1 in 100 women—it’s a sign that something’s wrong. Early symptoms like these could be a sign of a little-understood condition called primary ovarian insufficiency (POI).
Most women with POI are infertileUnable to get pregnant.. They’re also at risk for bone fractures and heart disease. And many aren’t aware they have POI.
“Symptoms of POI can be missed because young women may not realize they’re having symptoms similar to menopause. They may not think hot flashes are worth mentioning to a doctor,” says Dr. Lawrence M. Nelson, a researcher and physician at NIH. “Some teens and young women think of the menstrual cycle as a nuisance, and they don’t mind missing periods. They don’t take it seriously, and that’s a mistake.” Missing or irregular periods are a major sign of POI.
When young women have POI, their ovaries don’t work normally. They stop regularly releasing eggs and cut back production of estrogen and other reproductive hormonesMolecules sent through the bloodstream to signal another part of the body to react a certain way.. These same things happen when older women go through menopause, which is why the symptoms are similar. As with menopause, POI symptoms can often be relieved by hormone replacement therapy, usually an estrogen patch. And as with menopause, POI puts women at risk for bone loss. But with a proper diagnosis of POI and early treatment, bone health can be protected.
POI was previously known as “premature menopause” or “premature ovarian failure.” But research has since shown that ovarian function is unpredictable in these women, sometimes turning on and off, which is why many physicians now prefer the term primary ovarian insufficiency.
Many aspects of POI remain mysterious—including its cause. Only 10% of cases can be traced to either to a genetic condition or to autoimmunity—a disorder in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues.
Nelson’s research has shown that the unexpected loss of fertility often leads to grief and symptoms of anxiety and depression in women with POI. But a recent study from his lab suggests that most young women and teens with POI still have immature eggs in their ovaries. The finding raises the possibility that future treatments might be developed to restore fertility to some affected women. Even without treatment, up to 1 in 10 women with POI may unexpectedly become pregnant after their condition is diagnosed.
Irregular or stopped periods might be a sign of other conditions, including eating disorders or too much exercise. A simple blood test for elevated levels of a molecule called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) can help to confirm a diagnosis of POI.
“Having regular menstrual periods is a sign that the ovaries are working properly,” says Nelson. “If that isn’t happening, it’s important for girls and young women to talk to their health care provider and find out why.”
Nelson is now looking for 18- to 42-year-old women with POI to enroll in clinical studies at NIH. For more information, visit poi.nichd.nih.gov.
Note: Update: Enrollment for Nelson’s study is now closed.