Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) (cont.)
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How do I know if I have premature ovarian failure?
One of the most common signs of premature ovarian failure is having irregular periods. Women should pay close attention to their menstrual cycles, so that they can alert their health care provider when changes occur in their periods.
If you are under age 40 and your periods are irregular, or if you miss your period altogether for three months or more, your health care provider may measure the level of FSH in your blood, to determine if you have primary ovarian insufficiency in its early stages, or possibly even fully developed premature ovarian failure. Remember that FSH signals the ovaries to make estrogen. If the ovaries are not working properly, as is the case in premature ovarian failure, the level of FSH in the blood increases. A higher level of FSH in the blood is a strong sign of premature ovarian failure. But, irregular periods alone are not a sure sign that you have premature ovarian failure - research shows that fewer than 10 percent of women who have irregular or skipped periods have high FSH levels and premature ovarian failure.
To do an FSH test, your health care provider will collect some of your blood and send it to a laboratory. At the lab, a technician will check the level of FSH. If the level of FSH is in the menopausal range, it is likely that you have premature ovarian failure.
Are there treatments for the symptoms of premature ovarian failure?
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Currently, no proven treatment will restore normal function to a woman's ovaries. But, health care providers can suggest treatments for some of the symptoms of premature ovarian failure.
One of the most common treatments for women with premature ovarian failure is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). In women with premature ovarian failure, HRT gives their bodies the estrogen and other hormones that their ovaries are not making. Replacing these hormones causes a woman with premature ovarian failure to start having regular periods again. In addition, HRT may help women with premature ovarian failure lower their risk for the bone disease osteoporosis.
HRT is usually a combination of the hormones estrogen and progesterone (or the man-made form of progesterone, called progestin). Women can take the therapy as a pill, or they can wear a patch that sticks to their skin to get the hormones into their bodies. Many health care providers suggest the patch for women with premature ovarian failure because it offers a continuous flow of hormones into the blood stream, which mimics the way the body naturally releases estrogen. The combination and amount of hormones used in HRT may differ for different women. If you have questions about HRT as a treatment for premature ovarian failure, talk to your health care provider.
Most health care providers suggest that women with premature ovarian failure take HRT until they are 50 years old. After that time, women should talk with their health care provider about stopping HRT because of risks associated with older women taking the therapy after menopause.
Current research is also looking into the benefits of replacing the hormone testosterone to prevent bone loss in women with premature ovarian failure. Most people think of men's health when they hear the word testosterone, but women's bodies also make testosterone, at a level about one-seventh that of men. Testosterone helps to maintain muscle and bone mass, and may be related to a woman's sex drive. The ovaries make testosterone, and its level is lower in women with premature ovarian failure. But, unlike estrogen and progesterone, testosterone is not usually replaced as part of HRT.
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