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Premature ovarian failure (POF) is the medical term used to describe a stop in the normal function of the ovaries. This condition is called "premature" because it happens before a woman turns 40. (If the ovaries stop functioning normally after age 40, it is usually attributed to natural menopause.) Treatment often involves the use of hormone replacement therapy to manage symptoms.
Healthcare providers use the term premature ovarian failure, or POF, to describe a stop in the normal functioning of the ovaries in a woman under the age of 40. Many women naturally experience a decline in fertility at age 40 -- this age may also mark the beginning of irregularities in a woman's menstrual cycle that signal the onset of menopause.
For women with premature ovarian failure, the fertility decline and menstrual irregularities occur before age 40, sometimes even in the teens. Some healthcare providers also use the term primary ovarian insufficiency to describe this condition.
(Click Premature Ovarian Failure Symptoms to learn more.)
In the past, premature ovarian failure was called "premature menopause" by some healthcare providers. However, this term is not an accurate description of what happens in a woman with premature ovarian failure. A woman who has gone through natural menopause will rarely ever have another period, but a woman with POF is much more likely to have periods, even though they might not come regularly. There is virtually no chance for a woman who has gone through natural menopause to get pregnant. But in some cases, a woman with POF can still get pregnant.