Approximately every month an egg will mature within one of your ovaries, and be released in readiness for fertilization by sperm. This means pregnancy is potentially possible at that time. While ovulation is the monthly release of eggs from the ovaries, anovulation is the opposite, where your ovaries don’t release an egg during a menstrual cycle.
The problem with anovulation is that it significantly affects your chances of getting pregnant. Failure to ovulate for any particular month means you can’t conceive in that month, and that is why it is important to understand anovulation, its symptoms, signs and possible treatment options.
What Causes Anovulation?
Anovulation is caused by an imbalance of hormones. Ideally, your brain tells your body to secrete the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which stimulate the ovaries to produce a mature egg every month. Women who have anovulation usually have an imbalance in these hormones.
A few common causes of anovulation include:
1. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS):
PCOS affects one in 15 women worldwide and is the most common cause of anovulation. The condition is not well understood but what is clear is that it is a hormonal disorder causing enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outside ovaries. The disorder affects between 8 and 10 percent of women of childbearing age and causes an imbalance in the hormones that regulate ovulation.
2. Hypergonadotropic Hypogonadism:
The pituitary gland isn’t making the hormones that stimulate ovulation in women who have this condition. Blood tests reveal that follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels are very low.
3. Ovarian Insufficiency
For women over 40, hormone levels might be irregular because there are few eggs left to ovulate. For women under 40, premature ovarian failure is when ovaries stop working normally. In 90 percent of cases of premature ovarian failure, the cause is unknown, but it could be linked to a genetic disorder or an autoimmune disease.
Sometimes, anovulation can be due to very high prolactin levels (hyperprolactinemia) or very severe thyroid dysfunction (hypothyroidism).
Other factors that can contribute to anovulation include:
- Poor diet
- Not getting enough exercise
Women who aren’t ovulating usually have irregular periods which can include light periods with very little bleeding or heavy ones with unusually heavy flow. Other symptoms can include:
- Low libido
- Decreased energy
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Breast discharge when not breastfeeding
- Extreme fatigue
- Menopause-like symptoms (Hot flashes, missed periods, night sweats and irritability)
Fertility and Treatments for Anovulation
Many treatments can balance the hormones you need to have regular periods. Clomiphene citrate or letrozole can help regulate your hormone levels if you have PCOS to help you ovulate and get pregnant. These drugs can maximize your odds of getting pregnant if you’re nearing menopause too.
Some medication lowers prolactin production and decreases tumor size if you have hyperprolactinemia, while other drugs can regulate thyroid hormone levels to treat hypothyroidism. And estrogen and progesterone pills or skin patches can treat hypogonadotropic hypogonadism.
If you have ovarian insufficiency, IVF may help you to get pregnant. But since the number of eggs in your body is fixed at birth, you may need to use donor eggs.
In any case, if you suspect that you are not ovulating, see your doctor, who will run necessary tests, make a diagnosis and help you fashion a treatment plan that works for you.