Irregular Periods and Getting Pregnant

Irregular or abnormal ovulation and menstruation accounts for 30% to 40% of all cases of infertility. Having irregular periods, no periods, or abnormal bleeding often indicates that you aren’t ovulating, a condition known clinically as anovulation.

Although anovulation can usually be treated with fertility drugs, it is important to rule out other conditions pregnant womanthat could interfere with ovulation, such as liver disease, diabetes, problems with the ovaries, and abnormalities of the adrenal, pituitary, or thyroid glands, which produce important hormones.

Getting Pregnant When You Have Ovulation Problems

Once your doctor has ruled out other medical conditions, he or she may prescribe fertility drugs to stimulate your ovulation.

The drug contained in both Clomid and Serophene (clomiphene) is often a first choice because it’s effective and has been prescribed to women for decades. Unlike many infertility drugs, it also has the advantage of being taken orally instead of by injection. These drugs block the effects of estrogen throughout the body.

This leads to an increase in the production of certain hormones — luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) — that bring about ovulation. These drugs induce ovulation in about 80% of women with anovulation and, of that number, about 50% will become pregnant within six months. Up to 10% of women on Clomid will have a multiple gestation pregnancy — usually twins. (In comparison, just 1% of the general population of women delivers twins.)

The typical starting dosage of clomphene is 50 milligrams per day for five days, beginning on the third, fourth, or fifth day after your period begins. You can expect to start ovulating about seven days after you’ve taken the last dose of clomiphene. If you don’t ovulate right away, the dose can be increased by 50 milligrams per day each month up to 150 mg. After you’ve begun to ovulate, most doctors suggest taking Clomid for no longer than six months. If you haven’t gotten pregnant by then, you would try a different medication.

These fertility drugs sometimes make the cervical mucus “hostile” to sperm, keeping sperm from swimming into the uterus. This can be overcome by using artificial insemination to fertilize the egg.

Depending on your situation, your doctor may also suggest other fertility drugs such as Gonal-F or other injectable hormones that stimulate follicles and stimulate egg development in the ovaries. These are the so-called “super-ovulation” drugs. Most of these drugs are administered by injection just under the skin. Some of these hormones may overstimulate the ovaries (causing abdominal bloating and discomfort), thus, your doctor will monitor you with frequent vaginal ultrasounds and blood tests to monitor estrogen levels. About 90% of women ovulate with these drugs and between 20% and 60% become pregnant.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

A common ovulation problem that affects about 5% to 10% of women in their reproductive years is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that can make the ovaries stop working normally. In most cases, the ovaries become enlarged and appear covered with tiny, fluid-filled cysts. Symptoms include:

  • No periods, irregular periods, or irregular bleeding
  • No ovulation or irregular ovulation
  • Obesity or weight gain (although thin women may have PCOS)
  • Insulin resistance (an indicator of diabetes)
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal cholesterol with high trigylcerides
  • Excess hair growth on the body and face (hirsutism)
  • Acne or oily skin
  • Thinning hair or male-pattern baldness

Getting Pregnant When You Have PCOS

If you have PCOS and you’re overweight, losing weight is one way to improve your chances of pregnancy. Your doctor also might prescribe medication to lower your insulin levels, since elevated insulin levels — caused by your body’s inability to recognize insulin — has been found to be a common problem among many women with PCOS. Chronically elevated insulin levels can also lead to diabetes.

Clomid is often used initially to start ovulation. If that doesn’t work, your doctor may prescribe hormones that you can inject at home each day. Your doctor will monitor your blood levels and likely do ultrasound imaging tests of your pelvic area. Women who use the hormone injection method develop multiple follicles and run a slight risk of multiple pregnancy if they conceive. They have a 30% risk of ovulating with multiple eggs.

A procedure known as in vitro fertilization, or IVF, is another potential treatment for women with PCOS.

The Stress Factor

For couples struggling with infertility, it’s a particularly cruel fact: Not only can infertility cause a lot of stress, but stress can cause infertility. It’s known to contribute to problems with ovulation. For many people, the longer you go without conceiving, the more stress you feel. Fears about infertility may also lead to tension with your partner, and that can reduce your chances of pregnancy even further. After all, it’s hard to have sex if one of you sleeps on the couch.

While it’s a fact that coping with infertility is stressful, that doesn’t mean you have to give into it. If your doctor can’t find a medical cause for your ovulation problems, consider finding support groups or a therapist who can help you learn better ways to cope with the anxieties that come with infertility.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine offers these tips for reducing stress:

  • Keep the lines of communication open with your partner.
  • Get emotional support. A couples’ counselor, support groups, or books can help you cope.
  • Try out some stress-reduction techniques such as meditation or yoga.
  • Cut down on caffeine and other stimulants.
  • Exercise regularly to release your physical and emotional tension.
  • Agree on a medical treatment plan, including financial limits, with your partner.
  • Learn as much as you can about the cause of your infertility and your treatment options.

 

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