POI (primary ovarian ineffectiveness) can cause irregular menstruation cycles, bone loss and, when ignored infertility, according to an audio segment on National Public Radio (NPR), a nonprofit membership US-based media organization, on May 3.
Many link stress and diet to skipped periods, as well as unusually light and heavy flows, however gynecologists may be overlooking a more serious health concern - POI, "the disruption in reproductive hormones that affects 1 in 100 women by age 40."
Lawrence M. Nelson, MD, gynecologist and investigator at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and Human Development in the United States believes putting women on the pill as a quick fix without conducting a simple blood test that could spot POI, is a mistake that can cause long-term problems and even infertility.
Nelson said, "The menstrual cycle is just seen more as a nuisance by many women. But actually, [when periods are regular] it's the sign that the ovaries and the whole endocrine system related to reproduction is working the way it should."
He continued, "Birth control pills don't cause the condition but they can mask it for years."
"It might be reassuring to women to think, 'Oh, it looks like things are fine now, because my periods are coming,' but, in fact, their ovaries aren't supplying the hormones to make that happen, so it's masking the fact that their ovaries aren't working."
POI is a condition that can come and go. Just because a woman has it doesn't mean she can't get pregnant. With POI the ovaries can stop functioning but then start up again, Nelson explained, "hormone levels - particularly of follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH - may fluctuate, going in and out of the menopausal range. Somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of women diagnosed with the condition do get pregnant and give birth."
It is conceivable that women as young as 30 with POI can become post-menopausal and not know it because of the pill. So before you use the pill to sort out any irregularities ask your doctor to run a simple blood test that can screen for POI by analyzing your FSH levels.