POI is one of the situations where certainty of the diagnosis is essential due to the substantial implications for future health and fertility, and the potentially devastating psychological impact of a diagnosis of POI.
Psychological young women may struggle both with distressing thoughts around loss of oestrogen, and its association with ageing and loss of femininity in addition to the potential consequences for their fertility if they wish to have children in the future or add to their family. It can be hard to challenge social stereotypes attached to ageing and the menopause, which can add to a women’s distress.
Low hormone levels can cause problems with sexual function both psychologically and physically. Physically, the vagina changes in response to lower oestrogen levels. Libido may also drop with changes to hormone levels and in response to any negative thoughts around going through the menopause and the link to feeling a loss of sexuality.
Women often find it difficult to discuss a diagnosis of POI and its potential consequences with a partner or a friend as it is perhaps an unexpected conversation to have to have at a young age, particularly if, like most women with POI, there is no explanation which can make the diagnosis harder to come to terms with. Consequently women can feel very lonely and can struggle to cope following a diagnosis. Women commonly express feelings of guilt attached to fertility and POI and can feel hopeless about the future. Providing psychological support is vital in the management of this condition.
Physical a diagnosis of POI has a significant impact on a woman’s future health and it should be approached in a different way from menopause at an older age. There are substantial additional risks that should be carefully discussed and managed, preferebly by a specialist with experience in managing the menopause.
Osteoporosis- oestrogen helps to keep our bones strong and healthy and a loss of this hormone around the menopause leads to accelerated bone loss and dramatically increases the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is when the bones have become weaker and thinner and are more likely to fracture and break without much trauma. The risk of osteoporosis is hugely increased in women with POI if oestrogen is not replaced.
Cardiovascular disease- this term encompasses the damage to blood vessels around our body- most notably in our hearts and brains. Oestrogen helps to keep our blood vessels healthy and flexible and subsequently the risk of heart disease and stroke in particular, increases after the menopause as oestrogen levels fall. Again making sure that these additional risks are understood and discussed following a diagnosis of POI is vitally important.
Vaginal symptoms and psychosexual health- there are oestrogen receptors all over the body including in the bladder and vagina. Falling levels of oestrogen can cause symptoms of vaginal dryness and irritation, painful intercourse and recurrent urinary tract infections.
Lower levels of testosterone and oestrogen can interfere with libido and sexual function in addition to vaginal symptoms. The symptoms of testosterone deficiency can be much more marked in women who have had a surgical menopause from having their ovaries removed.
In addition to this, as the levels of oestrogen in the body fall the womb can become smaller and much less able to accommodate a pregnancy. It is important to discuss fertility needs as part of managing POI, as giving hormones back may help to keep the womb healthy and more likely to support a pregnancy if this is desirable.
Providing up to date, easily accessible information and support for women is paramount to managing POI.
Replacing oestrogen with HRT in women with POI is strongly recommended at least up until the average age of menopause (51) regardless of symptoms severity, in order to protect against osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. It is important to mention that research has shown that the risks associated with HRT in older women (over the age of 50) do not apply to women taking HRT before this age as HRT is simply replacing hormones that would usually be present were it not for POI.
For more information on HRT options please see our HRT section
Women with POI often require higher doses of oestrogen than women experiencing menopause later in life and may often require testosterone in addition to oestrogen which may be prescribed by a specialist.
this is currently not licensed in the UK and can usually needs to be prescribed in a specialist setting.
Topical oestrogen can improve vaginal and vulval dryness and irritation.
It is common to feel overwhelmed and anxious following a diagnosis of POI and some women may also experience low mood. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a form of talking therapy that helps to reframe the way we think about things and can be incredibly helpful in coming to terms with a difficult diagnosis such as POI.
Diet and lifestyle
Healthy living has a hugely positive effect on the body and can completely transform risk profile in terms of bone and cardiovascular health going forwards. Stopping smoking, reducing alcohol, exercising regularly and eating a healthy balanced diet rich in calcium not only improves risk factors around the menopause, but has a positive impact on mental health and overall symptoms.
A DEXA scan given information about how thick or thin our bones are. It is vitally important that all women diagnosed with POI have a DEXA scan as a baseline and at intervals following treatment to monitor their bone health.