Premature Ovarian Failure (POF)

Talking with Catherine Corp of the non-profit group POF Support, I asked if she knew of any particularly helpful websites regarding premature ovarian failure. Her response of "Sorry, (but) no; that's why we started POF group!", convinced me further that this is an important topic to feature.

Premature ovarian failure (POF), sometimes referred to as "premature menopause", is a loss of ovarian function in women under 40 years of age. Periods stop, estrogen is low, and the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) level is elevated. Generally, an accurate diagnosis requires at least four months without a period and two FSH tests, taken at least one month apart, with results greater than 40 mIU/ML.

In 1986, Carolyn Coulam, M.D. (et al) published an article called Incidence of Premature Ovarian Failure, which has since remained the standard by which researchers determined the incidence rate of POF. The study followed women who lived in Rochester, Minnesota, were seen for medical care at the Mayo Clinic, and who were born around 1930. Their records were followed from 1950 through 1986 for the age at which natural menopause occurred. The study concluded that natural menopause before age 40 is unusual -- the incident rate in the 40 to 44 age group was more than 10 times larger than in the 30 to 39 year age group.

Uncommon though it is, POF is not considered "rare". According to the National Organization of Rare Disorders (NORD), "a rare disorder is one which affects fewer than 200,000 people in the US." For perspective, some of the more commonly-known rare disorders are: ulcerative colitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and multiple sclerosis. Dr. Coulam's research discovered that POF occurs in one in 1000 women between the ages of 15 and 29, and one in 100 women between the ages of 30 and 39. Using her figures, it may be calculated that POF affects 250,000 women in the the US.