Use of cognitive behavior therapy for functional hypothalamic amenorrhea

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006 Dec;1092:114-29. doi: 10.1196/annals.1365.010.


Behaviors that chronically activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and/or suppress the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroidal (HPT) axis disrupt the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis in women and men. Individuals with functional hypothalamic hypogonadism typically engage in a combination of behaviors that concomitantly heighten psychogenic stress and increase energy demand. Although it is not widely recognized clinically, functional forms of hypothalamic hypogonadism are more than an isolated disruption of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) drive and reproductive compromise. Indeed, women with functional hypothalamic amenorrhea display a constellation of neuroendocrine aberrations that reflect allostatic adjustments to chronic stress. Given these considerations, we have suggested that complete neuroendocrine recovery would involve more than reproductive recovery. Hormone replacement strategies have limited benefit because they do not ameliorate allostatic endocrine adjustments, particularly the activation of the adrenal and the suppression of the thyroidal axes. Indeed, the rationale for the use of sex steroid replacement is based on the erroneous assumption that functional forms of hypothalamic hypogonadism represent only or primarily an alteration in the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Potential health consequences of functional hypothalamic amenorrhea, often termed stress-induced anovulation, may include an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, depression, other psychiatric conditions, and dementia. Although fertility can be restored with exogenous administration of gonadotropins or pulsatile GnRH, fertility management alone will not permit recovery of the adrenal and thyroidal axes. Initiating pregnancy with exogenous means without reversing the hormonal milieu induced by chronic stress may increase the likelihood of poor obstetrical, fetal, or neonatal outcomes. In contrast, behavioral and psychological interventions that address problematic behaviors and attitudes, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), have the potential to permit resumption of full ovarian function along with recovery of the adrenal, thyroidal, and other neuroendocrine aberrations. Full endocrine recovery potentially offers better individual, maternal, and child health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amenorrhea / physiopathology
  • Amenorrhea / psychology
  • Amenorrhea / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamic Diseases / physiopathology
  • Hypothalamic Diseases / psychology
  • Hypothalamic Diseases / therapy*