Wednesday, February 10, 2010

U.K. Patient with Inactive Pituitary and History of Bulimia Trying To Conceive


Dear Dr Ramirez,first of all I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my question. I'll give you a brief history of my problem. I have a history of anorexia/bulimia which became very serious when I was 18, I lost around 20 kilos of weight in under two months when I was 19 and since then have not had my periods. I am now 27 (will be turning 28 in three months). I also developed bilateral, simple, unilocular ovarian cysts that were removed through laporoscopy when I was 23.

I am 99.99% cured of my eating disorder now, my weight and BMI is normal, but my estradiol levels are extremely low (around 40 whereas they should be around 400 (?) at my age?). All other causes of secondary amenorrhea have been ruled out, I have been thoroughly checked and there is no problem with my ovaries, fallopian tubes or uterus, and the hormonal levels show an inactive/hypoactive pituitary.

It might help to add here, when I was about 24, I had an attack of ventricular fibrillation due to low potassium levels because of all the purgeing. The blood supply to my brain was compromised for about 5 - 10 minutes (if not more). I was wondering if that might have affected my pituitary in some way. I recently got a bone density scan done and I have developed osteopenia, because of the low estrogen levels for so long.

From age 19/20 to 25/26 I have been on and off of contraceptive pills, which were being prescribed to me first to deal with the ovarian cysts, and after the removal of the cysts, as HRT, but at that time my weight and BMI were below normal.I have recently brought my weight to normal (my BMI had been around 18 since last year, and I have brought it to 20 - 21 just recently after being told by my doctor to do so)and I have been put on Prempak C as HRT (one month ago) after being off of any contraceptive pills or anything for more than a year.

My questions are:

1) Will this HRT with Prempak C help awaken my pituitary? so that my periods might become regular on their own? Or will I be on HRT for life?

2) Will I regain my bone density with the help of this treatment?

3) I am married now and we are trying to conceive, could you please tell me what the risks involved would be? I mean will my low bone density be a problem? Will I be able to sustain the pregnancy with my inactive pituitary? Will my condition affect the health of my child?

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. Kindest Regards.


I am glad to hear that you are almost cured of your eating disorder. As you know, the worst outcome is death from such a disorder.

The decreased oxygen insult could certainly have affected your pituitary, causing it to become inactive. We have seen similar cases after hemorrhage from childbirth. If that is the case, your FSH and LH levels will be almost 0. You would have what is called hypogonadotropic hypogonadism i.e. the ovarian function would be low because of low pituitary stimulation. In that case, you will need to receive pituitary hormones for the ovary, thyroid and adrenal in order to have a normal body function. If you have normal thyroid and adrenal function now, then you do not have this disorder, only an ovarian dysfunction. Female hormone levels must be checked on the 2nd or 3rd day of the menstrual cycle in order to find the baseline because the levels vary during the cycle. The estrogen level that you report is within the normal limits. 400 is not a normal findings unless you are undergoing fertility treatments. The peak estradiol level in the mid-cycle is around 200-250. If the anorexia was the cause of your lack of ovarian function, then with return of your body to normal, that should return your ovarian function. If it does not, then there could be an inherent ovarian dysfunction as well.

I do not believe in bone density tests. I have NEVER seen a woman have a normal test. Everyone, has osteopenia based on these tests, so I can't give a lot of credibility to the results. That being said, however (my bias#, if you have a lack of estrogen production, you can certainly develop osteoporosis, as well as other problems. For that reason, it is important to have estrogen replacement therapy if you are not producing it on your own. The easiest and best method for a young woman under 45 yo is to use the birth control pill. Menopausal hormone replacement therapy, like what you are taking, is NOT made for young woman and does not give sufficient estrogen for your increased metabolic requirements. The birth control pill is better because it has an increased amount of estrogen.

If you are trying for pregnancy, that is another issue and should take precedent. Of course, you cannot be on the birth control pill if you are trying for pregnancy. Getting your weight up to normal is a good start. If ovarian function does not return on its own, then you will need medication to induce ovulation. Without ovulation, you cannot get pregnant using your own eggs. In that case, you need to see a reproductive endocrinologist to diagnose what needs to be treated (pituitary or ovary) and place you on the correct regimen and hormonal supplementation. Once your pregnancy gets past 8 weeks gestational age, the placenta will produce the hormones that it needs, so you will no longer require the supplements. Your child's health and well being will be independent of this treatment.

I'm sorry for the long reply, and the short reply. I cannot cover all the topic in detail because it would take too much space. What you have is a complex issue, but easy to treat if you are in the right hands. Don't worry.

Follow-up Question:

Dear Dr Ramirez,

I'm extremely thankful for your detailed response, I feel very comforted as well that you understand my situation and also that I understand it better now myself too!
I just wanted to tell you that my FSH and LH is within normal range, so I'm glad it's not hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, which I guess is good news.

Secondly, I'm very happy that it's no big deal that my come density scan showed osteopenia as you say bone density scans are not accurate, but my aunt also got hers done, she's a young 53 yo and her scan showed normal come density. But I feel fine really, no bone pains or anything.

Could you please tell me further that with normal weight and normal eating habits, how long it might take for my normal cycles to start on their own? And if there is anything further that I can do or discuss with doctors here to help me get better?

Thank you very much again.

Follow-up Answer:

Hello Again,

Good to hear that your FSH and LH are normal. Then, we can assume it's an ovarian dysfunction. Normally, I would expect your periods to resume within 4-6 months of achieving a normal weight, but to speed things up, you could go directly to ovulation induction (if you're trying for pregnancy or the birth control pill for three months to kick start your ovary).

Edward J. Ramirez, M.D., FACOG
Executive Medical Director
The Fertility and Gynecology Center
Monterey Bay IVF Program
Monterey, California, U.S.A.

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