What is the luteal phase?
The luteal phase refers to the first stage of a woman’s menstrual cycle. During this stage, the lining of the uterus gets thicker to prepare for a pregnancy. The luteal phase occurs after ovulation, but before bleeding starts.
How does this affect pregnancy?
If a woman has a luteal phase defect, then the uterine lining doesn’t thicken to prepare for pregnancy. Typically, the luteal phase is about 12-14 days long and involves the ovaries’ production of a hormone called progesterone. Although a luteal phase defect is not necessarily a direct cause of infertility, the condition can affect a woman’s ability to become or stay pregnant.
Causes of the condition
The two symptoms of a luteal phase defect include not releasing progesterone or the uterus not responding to progesterone. Often, the symptoms are due to an underlying condition, such as anorexia, endometriosis, obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or a thyroid disorder. The condition can also be linked to extreme amounts of high-intensity exercise. For many women, treating these underlying conditions could correct the problem.
Signs and symptoms
Sometimes, difficulty getting pregnant or miscarriage is the first sign of a luteal phase defect. However, the condition may also cause more frequent periods or spotting between periods. Sometimes, a luteal phase defect can be challenging to pinpoint.
Diagnosing luteal phase defect
No single test can diagnose a luteal phase defect definitively. However, a healthcare provider may recommend blood tests to check hormone levels. Abnormal levels of progesterone, luteinizing hormone (LH) or follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), may indicate a problem. Fertility specialists may also conduct a pelvic ultrasound to measure the thickness of the uterine lining.
Women who want or need further testing for infertility should visit a fertility specialist. These healthcare providers will get an intake of the woman’s full health history, and perform imaging or blood tests to determine the underlying cause of infertility. Some conditions like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or PCOS can also cause irregular bleeding and affect fertility.
Women with a luteal phase defect who want to get pregnant may consider taking specific medications to stimulate ovulation and progesterone production. Other medicines may help the lining of the uterus to grow. Some women may opt for fertility treatment like in vitro fertilization (IVF). Speak with a fertility specialist to learn more about assisted reproductive technology (ART) options.
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