The Pathophysiology of Amenorrhea in the Adolescent

Authors


Address for correspondence: Neville H. Golden, M.D., Chief, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, 1174 Castro Street, Suite 250 A, Mountain View, CA 94040. Voice: 650-694-0660; fax: 650-694-0664. ngolden@stanford.edu

Abstract

Menstrual irregularity is a common occurrence during adolescence, especially within the first 2–3 years after menarche. Prolonged amenorrhea, however, is not normal and can be associated with significant medical morbidity, which differs depending on whether the adolescent is estrogen-deficient or estrogen-replete. Estrogen-deficient amenorrhea is associated with reduced bone mineral density and increased fracture risk, while estrogen-replete amenorrhea can lead to dysfunctional uterine bleeding in the short term and predispose to endometrial carcinoma in the long term. In both situations, appropriate intervention can reduce morbidity. Old paradigms of whom to evaluate for amenorrhea have been challenged by recent research that provides a better understanding of the normal menstrual cycle and its variability. Hypothalamic amenorrhea is the most prevalent cause of amenorrhea in the adolescent age group, followed by polycystic ovary syndrome. In anorexia nervosa, exercise-induced amenorrhea, and amenorrhea associated with chronic illness, an energy deficit results in suppression of hypothalamic secretion of GnRH, mediated in part by leptin. Administration of recombinant leptin to women with hypothalamic amenorrhea has been shown to restore LH pulsatility and ovulatory menstrual cycles. The use of recombinant leptin may improve our understanding of the pathophysiology of hypothalamic amenorrhea in adolescents and may also have therapeutic possibilities.

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