Current evaluation of amenorrhea
The Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine
Amenorrhea is the absence or abnormal cessation of the menses. Primary and secondary amenorrhea describe the
occurrence of amenorrhea before and after menarche, respectively. (Fertil SterilÒ 2008;90:S219–25. Ó2008 by
American Society for Reproductive Medicine.)
Amenorrhea is the absence or abnormal cessation of the men- complaint. The sexual ambiguity or virilization should be
ses (1). Primary and secondary amenorrhea describe the evaluated as separate disorders, mindful that amenorrhea is
occurrence of amenorrhea before and after menarche, respec- an important component of their presentation (9).
tively. The majority of the causes of primary and secondary
amenorrhea are similar. Timing of the evaluation of primary EVALUATION OF THE PATIENT
amenorrhea recognizes the trend to earlier age at menarche
History, physical examination, and estimation of follicle
and is therefore indicated when there has been a failure to
stimulating hormone (FSH), thyroid stimulating hormone
menstruate by age 15 in the presence of normal secondary sex-
(TSH), and prolactin will identify the most common causes
ual development (two standard deviations above the mean of
of amenorrhea (Fig. 1). The presence of breast development
13 years), or within ﬁve years after breast development if
means there has been previous estrogen action. Excessive tes-
that occurs before age 10 (2). Failure to initiate breast develop-
tosterone secretion is suggested most often by hirsutism and
ment by age 13 (two standard deviations above the mean of 10
rarely by increased muscle mass or other signs of virilization.
years) also requires investigation (2). In women with regular
The history and physical examination should include a thor-
menstrual cycles, a delay of menses for as little as one week
ough assessment of the external and internal genitalia.
may require the exclusion of pregnancy; secondary amenor-
rhea lasting three months and oligomenorrhea involving less The genital examination is abnormal in approximately
than nine cycles a year require investigation. 15% of women with primary amenorrhea. A blind or absent
vagina with breast development usually indicates Mullerian
The prevalence of amenorrhea not due to pregnancy, lacta-
agenesis, transverse vaginal septum, or androgen insensitiv-
tion or menopause is approximately 3% to 4% (3, 4). Al-
ity syndrome. If a genital examination is not feasible, an
though the list of potential causes of amenorrhea is long
abdominal ultrasound may be useful to conﬁrm the presence
(Table 1), the majority of cases are accounted for by four con-
or absence of the uterus.
ditions: polycystic ovary syndrome, hypothalamic amenor-
rhea, hyperprolactinemia, and ovarian failure. Other causes When the physical examination is normal (the majority of
are seldom encountered in a typical reproductive medicine cases), the initial investigations should exclude pregnancy
practice. In highly specialized referral centres, only 10 to and estimate FSH and prolactin concentrations. Estimation
15 patients per annum were seen with primary amenorrhea, of TSH is useful to rule out subclinical hypothyroidism,
and a similar number with secondary amenorrhea (5–7). even in the absence of thyroid-related symptoms. If there is
The World Health Organization (WHO) has summarized gonadal failure, a karyotype should be done if the woman
the causes: in WHO group I there is no evidence of endoge- is less than 30 years of age to identify chromosomal abnor-
nous estrogen production, normal or low FSH levels, normal malities, including the presence of a Y chromosome as may
prolactin levels, and no evidence of a lesion in the hypotha- be seen in mosaic Turner syndrome or Swyer syndrome. If
lamic-pituitary region; WHO group II is associated with ev- the serum prolactin is persistently elevated, and there is no
idence of estrogen production and normal levels of prolactin history of medication or drug use that may elevate prolactin,
and FSH; and WHO group III involves elevated serum FSH magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is preferred to identify
levels indicating gonadal failure (8). a pituitary tumor. When FSH values are normal or low, the
problem is most often polycystic ovary syndrome or hypotha-
Amenorrhea may occur with sexual ambiguity or viriliza-
lamic amenorrhea. Tables 2 and 3 show the distribution of the
tion, but usually in these cases amenorrhea is not the primary
common causes of primary and secondary amenorrhea,
respectively, in clinical practice (5–7).
Reviewed June 2008.
Received February 20, 2004; revised and accepted February 20, 2004. CAUSES OF AMENORRHEA
No reprints will be available. Anatomical Defects
Correspondence to: Practice Committee, American Society for Reproduc-
tive Medicine, 1209 Montgomery Highway, Birmingham, Alabama When all or part of the uterus and vagina are absent in the
35216 . presence of otherwise normal female sexual characteristics,
0015-0282/08/$34.00 Fertility and Sterilityâ Vol. 90, Suppl 3, November 2008 S219
doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.08.038 Copyright ª2008 American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Published by Elsevier Inc.
TABLE 1 TABLE 1
Classiﬁcation of amenorrhea (not including Continued.
disorders of congenital sexual ambiguity).
I. Anatomic defects (outﬂow tract) c. Encephalitis/meningitis
A. Mullerian agenesis (Mayer-Rokitansky- d. Sarcoidosis
Kuster-Hauser syndrome) 3. Chronic debilitating disease
B. Complete androgen resistance (testicular 4. Tumors
feminization) a. Craniopharyngioma
C. Intrauterine synechiae (Asherman b. Germinoma
syndrome) c. Hamartoma
D. Imperforate hymen d. Langerhans cell histiocytosis
E. Transverse vaginal septum e. Teratoma
F. Cervical agenesis—isolated f. Endodermal sinus tumor
G. Cervical stenosis—iatrogenic g. Metastatic carcinoma
H. Vaginal agenesis—isolated IV. Pituitary causes
I. Endometrial hypoplasia or A. Tumors
aplasia—congenital 1. Prolactinomas
II. Primary hypogonadism 2. Other hormone-secreting pituitary tu-
A. Gonadal dysgenesis mor (ACTH, thyrotropin-stimulating hor-
1. Abnormal karyotype mone, growth hormone, gonadotropin)
a. Turner syndrome 45,X b. Mutations of FSH receptor
b. Mosaicism c. Mutations of LH receptor
2. Normal karyotype d. Fragile X syndrome
a. Pure gonadal dysgenesis 4. Autoimmune disease
i. 46,XX 5. Galactosemia
ii. 46,XY (Swyer syndrome) V. Other endocrine gland disorders
B. Gonadal agenesis A. Adrenal disease
C. Enzymatic deﬁciency 1. Adult-onset adrenal hyperplasia
1. 17a-Hydroxylase deﬁciency 2. Cushing syndrome
2. 17,20-Lyase deﬁciency B. Thyroid disease
3. Aromatase deﬁciency 1. Hypothyroidism
D. Premature ovarian failure 2. Hyperthyroidism
1. Idiopathic C. Ovarian tumors
2. Injury 1. Granulosa-theca cell tumors
a. Chemotherapy 2. Brenner tumors
b. Radiation 3. Cystic teratomas
c. Mumps oophoritis 4. Mucinous/serous cystadenomas
3. Resistant ovary 5. Krukenberg tumors
a. Idiopathic 3. Nonfunctional tumors
III. Hypothalamic causes (craniopharyngioma)
A. Dysfunctional 4. Metastatic carcinoma
1. Stress B. Space-occupying lesions
2. Exercise 1. Empty sella
3. Nutrition-related 2. Arterial aneurysm
a. Weight loss, diet, malnutrition C. Necrosis
b. Eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, 1. Sheehan syndrome
bulimia) 2. Panhypopituitarism
4. Pseudocyesis D. Inﬂammatory/inﬁltrative
B. Other disorders 1. Sarcoidosis
1. Isolated gonadotropin deﬁciency 2. Hemochromatosis
a. Kallmann syndrome 3. Lymphocytic hypophysitis
b. Idiopathic hypogonadotropic E. Gonadotropin mutations (FSH)
hypogonadism VI. Multifactorial causes
2. Infection A. Polycystic ovary syndrome
ASRM Practice Committee. Amenorrhea. Fertil Steril 2008.
ASRM Practice Committee. Amenorrhea. Fertil Steril 2008.
S220 ASRM Practice Committee Amenorrhea Vol. 90, Suppl 3, November 2008
Suggested ﬂow diagram aiding in the evaluation of women with amenorrhea.
ASRM Practice Committee. Amenorrhea. Fertil Steril 2008.
the diagnosis is usually Mullerian agenesis, which accounts abortion, is usually due to intrauterine synechiae. If the vag-
for approximately 10% of cases of primary amenorrhea. Mul- inal opening is patent and the cervix is visualized with a spec-
lerian agenesis is associated with urogenital malformations ulum, a sound or probe can conﬁrm the presence or the
such as unilateral renal agenesis, pelvic kidney, horseshoe absence of cervical stenosis or scarring (9). To evaluate intra-
kidney, hydronephrosis, and ureteral duplication. Mullerian uterine synechiae, an imaging procedure (hysterosalpingo-
agenesis must be differentiated from complete androgen in- gram, sonohysterogram, or hysteroscopy) is indicated.
sensitivity because the vagina may be absent or short in
both disorders. Complete androgen insensitivity is rare, hav-
ing an incidence as low as 1 in 60,000 (10), but it comprises Elevated FSH Levels
approximately 5% of cases of primary amenorrhea (Table 2). Lack of gonadal function is marked by high FSH levels. Go-
The simplest means of distinguishing between Mullerian nadal failure can occur at any age, even in utero, when it is
agenesis and complete androgen insensitivity is by measuring usually the result of gonadal agenesis or gonadal dysgenesis.
serum testosterone, which is in the normal male range or Gonadal failure in genetically XX individuals is ovarian fail-
higher in the latter condition (11). Complete androgen insen- ure; when this occurs at any time before onset of sexual mat-
sitivity is suggested by family history, the absence of pubic uration, there will be primary amenorrhea and incomplete
hair, and the occasional presence of inguinal masses. The di- breast development. Genetically XY individuals with
agnosis can be conﬁrmed by a 46, XY karyotype. The inci- gonadal failure will have female genitalia because Mullerian
dence of gonadal malignancy is 22%, but it rarely occurs inhibiting factor and testosterone will not be produced.
before age 20 (12). A plan should be established for the Gonadal tumors occur in up to 25% of women with a Y chro-
timely removal of the gonads following breast development mosome; unlike complete androgen insensitivity, these
and the attainment of adult stature. gonads do not secrete hormones and should be removed at
the time of diagnosis (14).
Other anatomic defects include imperforate hymen (1 in
1,000 women), transverse vaginal septum (1 in 80,000 Gonadal dysgenesis (streak gonads) can occur with normal
women), and isolated absence of the vagina or cervix (13). XX and XY karyotypes and a variety of abnormal karyo-
These conditions are more likely to present with cyclic types, most commonly 45,X (Turner syndrome), in which oo-
pain and an accumulation of blood behind the obstruction cyte loss is accelerated after 18 weeks in utero (15, 16).
which can lead to endometriosis and pelvic adhesions. Amen- Turner syndrome is often diagnosed in early childhood be-
orrhea after an episode of postpartum endometritis or an op- cause of the well-known phenotypic characteristics (short
erative procedure involving the uterus, particularly curettage stature, webbed neck and low hairline), and therefore many
for postpartum hemorrhage, elective abortion, or a missed patients do not present for assessment of primary
Fertility and Sterilityâ S221
TABLE 2 sponsible for polyendocrinopathy-candidiasis-ectodermal
dystrophy (25). A further indication for karyotype and genetic
Common causes of primary amenorrhea (4, 6). investigation is that some patients with POF have children for
Approximate whom the genetic information may be useful.
Category frequency (%) Up to 40% of women with POF may have autoimmune ab-
Breast development 30 normalities, most commonly autoimmune thyroiditis (26,
Mullerian agenesis 10 27). POF is slightly more common in women with insulin-de-
Androgen insensitivity 9 pendent diabetes mellitus, myasthenia gravis, and parathy-
Vaginal septum 2 roid disease than in healthy women (28). Autoimmune
Imperforate hymen 1 lymphocytic oophoritis may be seen in Addison’s disease,
Constitutional delay 8 in which 10% to 60% of cases may have ovarian failure,
No breast development: high FSH 40 but this condition is extremely rare (1 per million women).
46 XX 15 Ovarian biopsy is not indicated in clinical practice, but be-
46 XY 5 cause autoimmune POF could be a component of a polygland-
Abnormal 20 ular syndrome, patients can be screened for other
No breast development: low FSH 30 abnormalities by means of TSH, thyroid autoantibodies, fast-
Constitutional delay 10 ing glucose, and electrolytes (29). Thyroid autoantibodies
Prolactinomas 5 may increase the ability to identify individuals likely to de-
Kallman syndrome 2 velop subsequent primary hypothyroidism. No currently
Other CNS 3 available validated serum antibody marker can conﬁrm a clin-
Stress, weight loss, anorexia 3 ical diagnosis of autoimmune premature ovarian failure.
PCOS 3 Also, at this time, no therapy for infertile patients with
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia 3 autoimmune ovarian failure has been proven effective in
Other 1 a prospective controlled study.
ASRM Practice Committee. Amenorrhea. Fertil Steril 2008.
Patients with ovarian failure should be offered estrogen
and progestin treatment to promote and maintain secondary
sexual characteristics and reduce the risk of developing oste-
oporosis. In adolescents with gonadal failure, the aim is to
amenorrhea. Uncommon causes of ovarian failure include
FSH or LH receptor mutations (17, 18), galactosemia, 17
a-hydroxylase or 17,20-lyase deﬁciency, and aromatase deﬁ-
Common causes of secondary amenorrhea (5).
In premature ovarian failure (POF), amenorrhea, persistent
estrogen deﬁciency, and elevated FSH levels occur prior to Approximate
the age of 40, and this condition affects 1% to 5% of women Category frequency (%)
(22, 23). Iatrogenic causes of POF, such as chemotherapy and
Low or normal FSH 66
radiation therapy for malignancy, have a potential for recov-
ery. Ovarian function may ﬂuctuate, with increasingly irreg-
ular menstrual cycles before the ﬁnal depletion of oocytes
and permanent ovarian failure. The resulting ﬂuctuation in
gonadotropin levels accounts for the lack of accuracy associ-
ated with a single FSH value (24).
Ovarian failure is conﬁrmed by documenting an FSH level Pituitary tumor, empty sella,
persistently in the menopausal range. In women under 30 with Sheehan syndrome
POF, a karyotype should be obtained to rule out sex chromo- Gonadal failure: high FSH 12
some translocation, short arm deletion, or the presence of an 46 XX
occult Y chromosome, which is associated with an increased Abnormal karyotype
risk of gonadal tumors. About 16% of women who are carriers High prolactin 13
of the premutation of Fragile X syndrome experience prema- Anatomic 7
ture menopause (19). A thorough family history should be Asherman syndrome
obtained because several autosomal disorders have been Hyperandrogenic states 2
associated with ovarian failure, including mutations of the Ovarian tumor
phosphomannomutase 2 (PMM2) gene, the galactose-1-phos- Non-classic CAH
phate uridyltransferase (GALT) gene, the FSH receptor Undiagnosed
(FSHR) gene, chromosome 3q containing the Blepharophi-
ASRM Practice Committee. Amenorrhea. Fertil Steril 2008.
mosis gene, and the autoimmune regulator (AIRE) gene, re-
S222 ASRM Practice Committee Amenorrhea Vol. 90, Suppl 3, November 2008
mimic pubertal development with low-dose estrogens, in- concentrations tend to ﬂuctuate and each condition is associ-
creasing gradually to augment breast development, avoiding ated with both normal and low estrogen production. As an in-
progestin until the breast mound and areola have developed. dication of endogenous estrogen levels, the duration of the
Rarely, some ovarian follicles remain in women with ovarian amenorrhea and clinical features are more important than
failure so that spontaneous ovulation and conception are pos- measurement of estradiol, the progesterone challenge test,
sible, even in women taking exogenous estrogen with or or presence of cervical mucus. Although the progesterone
without a progestogen (29). challenge test might seem to characterize estrogen produc-
tion, withdrawal bleeding correlates poorly with estrogen sta-
Elevated Prolactin Levels tus and the test imposes a delay on the diagnostic process. The
Hyperprolactinemia is associated with decreased estradiol false positive rate is high: up to 20% of women with oligome-
concentrations and amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea. Prolactin norrhea or amenorrhea in whom estrogen is present have no
concentrations are higher in women with amenorrhea than in withdrawal bleeding (35). The false negative rate is also
those with oligomenorrhea (30). With persistent hyperprolac- high; withdrawal bleeding occurs in up to 40% of women
tinemia, after ruling out primary hypothyroidism, MRI of the with amenorrhea due to stress, weight loss, exercise, or hyper-
pituitary is indicated. Mildly elevated prolactin levels may be prolactinemia where estrogen production is usually reduced
a sign of another organic central nervous system lesion, such (36) and in up to 50% of women with ovarian failure (29).
as congenital aqueductal stenosis, non-functioning adeno-
mas, or any condition which causes pituitary stalk irritability. Hypothalamic Amenorrhea
In women with hyperprolactinemia, the prevalence of a pitu- Functional disorders of the hypothalamus or higher centers
itary tumor is 50% to 60% (31). The likelihood of a pituitary are the most common reason for chronic anovulation. Psy-
tumor was unrelated to the level of prolactin (31), and only chogenic stress, weight changes, undernutrition, and exces-
16% of the variability in tumor size was associated with sive exercise are frequently associated with functional
prolactin level (r¼0.40, p< .001) (32). hypothalamic amenorrhea, but the pathophysiologic mecha-
nisms are unclear. More cases of amenorrhea are associated
Usually, however, patients with amenorrhea have larger tu- with weight loss than with anorexia, which is rare (15 cases
mors than patients with oligomenorrhea. The poor correlation per 100,000 women per year), but amenorrhea with anorexia
between tumor presence and prolactin level indicates that nervosa is more severe (37, 38). Women involved in compet-
MRI should be performed whenever prolactin levels are per- itive sports activities have a three-fold higher risk of primary
sistently elevated. In most amenorrheic women with hyper- or secondary amenorrhea than others, and the highest preva-
prolactinemia, prolactin levels do not decline without lence is among long-distance runners (39). Infrequently, hy-
treatment, and the amenorrhea does not resolve as long as pothalamic dysfunction occurs before menarche and presents
the prolactin levels remain elevated (30, 32). In the absence as primary amenorrhea in approximately 3% of adolescents;
of another organic condition, dopamine agonists are the pre- usually secondary sexual characteristics will develop and
ferred treatment of hyperprolactinemia with or without a pitu- menstrual cycles will evolve without therapy (40).
Chronic debilitating diseases, such as uncontrolled juve-
Normal or Low FSH Levels nile diabetes, end-stage kidney disease, malignancy, acquired
immune deﬁciency syndrome, or malabsorption, which are
Amenorrhea associated with normal or low FSH values and
uncommon in women of reproductive age, may lead to anov-
chronic anovulation is frequently unexplained. The most
ulation and amenorrhea through a central mechanism.
common diagnostic categories are hypothalamic amenorrhea
and polycystic ovary syndrome, and in each case similar but Other rare causes of hypothalamic amenorrhea include iso-
less common conditions must be excluded. Hypothalamic lated gonadotropin deﬁciency. This is most often due to Kall-
amenorrhea is characterized by inconsistent GnRH drive, mann syndrome, which is associated with defects in olfactory
while in polycystic ovary syndrome GnRH pulses are persis- bulb development. Thus, these women may have anosmia as
tently rapid or increased, leading to excessive LH synthesis, well as amenorrhea and low gonadotropins due to gonadotro-
hyperandrogenism, and impaired follicular maturation (33). pin-releasing hormone (GnRH) deﬁciency (41). Mutations in
Differentiating hypothalamic amenorrhea from polycystic gonadotropin-releasing hormone receptor genes also may
ovary syndrome depends on clinical judgment aided by the be associated with hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (42). Pi-
presence of obesity and androgenization, which are typical tuitary disorders that cause anovulation include Sheehan syn-
features of polycystic ovary syndrome. This judgment also drome, necrosis of the pituitary gland, and empty sella
is relevant to the prognosis because obesity and androgeniza- syndrome (43). When amenorrhea persists and stress, exces-
tion tend to reduce the likelihood of conception (34). sive exercise, or weight loss can be conﬁdently excluded as
causes, MRI may be indicated to rule out organic disease in
Estradiol concentration does not effectively distinguish be-
the central nervous system, hypothalamus, or pituitary gland.
tween hypothalamic amenorrhea and polycystic ovary syn-
drome. Although hypothalamic amenorrhea implies that Women with hypothalamic amenorrhea are susceptible to
levels of estradiol should be low, while normal levels of estra- the development of osteoporosis (44). Unless the primary
diol are expected with polycystic ovary syndrome, estradiol cause can be easily treated, cyclic estrogen-progestin therapy
Fertility and Sterilityâ S223
or oral contraceptive pills should be initiated to prevent ex- on hormonal criteria. Serum androgen levels usually range
cessive bone loss. If pregnancy is desired, good nutrition from upper normal to two-fold higher than normal in women
and optimal body weight are important objectives but may with PCOS. Prolactin levels are mildly elevated in 10% to
be difﬁcult to achieve. Ovulation induction with clomiphene 25% of women with PCOS. The LH/FSH ratio may be greater
citrate, exogenous gonadotropins, or pulsatile GnRH therapy than 2, but gonadotropin values are not useful to conﬁrm the
should be offered (45). diagnosis (47, 49–51).
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Women with PCOS are frequently insulin resistant; insulin
sensitivity is reduced by 30% to 40%, leading to hyperinsuli-
When amenorrhea is associated with evidence of androgen
nemia, but the insulin response may be inadequate because of
excess, the most common disorder is polycystic ovary syn-
beta-cell dysfunction. Thus, PCOS patients are pre-disposed
drome (PCOS). Less commonly, amenorrhea with hyperan-
to glucose intolerance (52). Impaired glucose tolerance oc-
drogenism arises from adrenal diseases, such as non-
curs in 31% of PCOS patients, but fasting glucose is elevated
classical adrenal hyperplasia and Cushing syndrome or
in only 7.5%. It can be argued that women with PCOS should
from androgen-producing tumors (46). Other disorders that
be screened for type 2 diabetes (52, 53). Obesity further ex-
may cause chronic anovulation (Table 1) are much less com-
acerbates insulin resistance, and higher insulin concentra-
mon than PCOS, and in each case special characteristics are
tions are associated with higher androgen levels (34).
likely to direct the investigation toward a speciﬁc diagnosis.
PCOS is characterized by menstrual disturbances ranging
from dysfunctional uterine bleeding to oligomenorrhea and
amenorrhea, hyperandrogenism, and infertility. Seventy- Amenorrhea is an uncommon presentation in reproduc-
ﬁve percent of North American women with PCOS are obese tive medicine.
(47). PCOS patients are more likely to present with oligome- The four most common causes are polycystic ovary syn-
norrhea (76%) than amenorrhea (24%) (34, 48). The symp- drome, hypothalamic amenorrhea, ovarian failure, and
toms often occur ﬁrst at menarche, but the signs of hyperprolactinemia.
androgen excess may not become evident until several years The initial useful laboratory tests are FSH, TSH, and
later and these signs increase over time. prolactin.
Differentiating hypothalamic amenorrhea from poly-
The 1990 National Institutes of Health/National Institute cystic ovary syndrome depends on clinical judgment,
of Child Health and Human Development (NIH/NICHHD) aided by the presence or absence of androgenization.
criteria for PCOS, although not a consensus, were as follows:
(1) ovulatory dysfunction, (2) clinical evidence of hyperan- Acknowledgment: This report was developed under the direction of the Prac-
drogenism (hirsutism, acne, androgenic alopecia) and/or hy- tice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine as a ser-
perandrogenemia, and (3) exclusion of other related disorders vice to its members and other practicing clinicians. While this document
such as hyperprolactinemia, thyroid abnormalities, and non- reﬂects appropriate management of a problem encountered in the practice
of reproductive medicine, it is not intended to be the only approved standard
classical adrenal hyperplasia (49). An international consen- of practice or to dictate an exclusive course of treatment. Other plans of man-
sus conference held in 2003 concluded that the syndrome agement may be appropriate, taking into account the needs of the individual
‘‘encompasses a broader spectrum of signs and symptoms patient, available resources, and institutional or clinical practice limitations.
of ovarian dysfunction than those deﬁned by the original di- This report was approved by the Board of Directors of the American Society
agnostic criteria’’ (50). Therefore, participants concluded for Reproductive Medicine in January 2004.
that individuals must have two out of three of the following
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