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Irregular Menstrual Cycles and Fertility

For most women, the normal range of a menstrual cycle is from 24-35 days. At one time or another, the majority of women suffer from menstrual irregularity. This shouldn’t be a cause of concern unless the irregularity becomes a regular occurrence.

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If a woman’s menstrual cycle is frequently irregular or she doesn’t get her period for several months at a time, this means she isn’t ovulating every month – and that can have an impact on her fertility.

There are a number of reasons why a woman might experience occasional irregular menstrual cycles, including stress, travel, illness or sudden weight gain or loss. In these instances your cycle usually becomes regular again in just a month or two and shouldn’t cause any fertility problems.

What if my cycle is consistently irregular?

However, recurrent menstrual irregularity is responsible for about one-third of infertility cases. Irregular menstrual cycles often result in reduced ovulation, which can lessen a woman’s chances to become pregnant. Ovulation occurs less frequently, plus irregular menstrual cycles make it more difficult to track when a woman is most fertile.

If you have an irregular menstrual cycle and want to get pregnant, it’s important to try to monitor when you ovulate. Ovulation generally takes place two weeks after your period begins. Over-the-counter ovulation predictor kits can be helpful in narrowing the time range. Some physical symptoms also take place when you’re ovulating, such as sharp abdominal pain, breast tenderness, increased body temperature (take your temperature daily to track this) and change in cervical mucous (it becomes clear, thin and stretchy).

Could I have PCOS - Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that develops when hormonal imbalance in a woman causes the formation of cysts in her ovaries. The cysts themselves are not harmful, but the changing hormone levels related to PCOS can lead to, among other things, irregular menstrual periods and ovulation. (Other common symptoms include acne, hair loss, excess facial and body hair and weight gain.) Women with PCOS also are more prone to repeat miscarriages and gestational diabetes during pregnancy and are at greater risk for endometrial cancer. The specific cause of PCOS is unknown, but it appears to run in families. PCOS affects about 5% of women of reproductive age and, if not managed, it can lead to serious health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. When medication is prescribed for PCOS to help balance hormones and regulate menstrual cycles, it’s often in the form of birth control pills (which might relieve some other symptoms as well). Diabetes medication may also be helpful. A healthy lifestyle is key in dealing with PCOS. A heart-healthy, weight-conscious diet and regular exercise is essential for women with PCOS in order to control weight gain and high blood pressure. If a woman with PCOS is trying to get pregnant, fertility drugs might be prescribed. Many women with monitored and treated PCOS are able to become pregnant and carry to term.

Improving Ovulation Odds

If no other health issues are present, women with irregular menstrual cycles who are interested in becoming pregnant may be prescribed fertility drugs, to try to increase and regulate ovulation. Careful monitoring by a health care practitioner would follow. Women who exercise a great deal can also be at risk for irregular menstrual cycles and anovulation, as a degree of body fat is necessary for normal ovulation. At the other extreme, severely overweight women can have hormonal imbalances that compromise their menstrual cycles and impact ovulation. In either of these cases, lifestyle changes might help fertility issues if they arise.


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