Ovulation occurs when an ovary releases a mature egg, sending it into the fallopian tube where it may be fertilized by sperm. Any condition that interferes with ovulation prevents you from getting pregnant. In fact, ovulation problems are the top cause of infertility in women.
If you have a hard time getting pregnant, Karen F. Brodman, MD, can support your journey by screening for ovulation disorders and diagnosing the underlying problem. She also treats some reproductive disorders associated with ovulation problems and infertility.
However, if you want to get pregnant and she identifies an ovulation disorder, she will refer you to a fertility specialist since you require this level of expertise. In this blog post, she gives you a rundown of the different types of ovulation disorders that impact fertility.
Your ovaries contain thousands of fluid-filled follicles. Each follicle holds an immature egg. An egg matures every month, and then the follicle releases the egg, sending it into the fallopian tube.
Though that brief summary makes ovulation sound simple, it’s a complex process. Ovulation requires perfectly timed and tightly controlled changes in multiple hormones.
Structures in your brain release hormones that control the production and release of hormones in your ovaries (and other reproductive organs). Any problem that disrupts hormonal communication or hormone levels can lead to infertility.
Ovulation disorders refer to any hormone problem that disrupts the maturation and release of an egg during your monthly menstrual cycle. Though there are many possible cause of ovulatory dysfunction, the most common include:
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Of all the ovulation problems that cause infertility, PCOS is the most common. PCOS occurs when you produce excessively high levels of male sex hormones (androgens).
Women need androgens, but only in very tiny amounts. If your androgen levels are too high, you may ovulate sporadically or not at all, which clearly impacts your ability to conceive.
As a result, you have a hard time getting pregnant. The good news is that there is treatment available to successfully induce ovulation.
Irregular menstrual periods or the lack of monthly periods are the most obvious sign of PCOS. However, many women also experience pelvic pain (caused by ovarian cysts) and hirsutism (the growth of coarse, dark hair on your face, chest, abdomen and thighs).
Half of women with PCOS gain weight. Additionally, the hormonal imbalance significantly increases your risk of developing chronic health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and endometrial cancer.
Primary ovarian insufficiency, also called premature ovarian failure, occurs when your ovaries stop functioning before the age of 40.
When your ovaries fail, they don’t produce enough estrogen. They may stop ovulating or occasionally release eggs. As a result, you don’t have periods or you have irregular periods.
Ovarian insufficiency may result from:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Genetic disorders (Turner syndrome)
- Cancer treatments
- Viral infections
While we can provide hormone replacement therapy to relieve the symptoms caused by low estrogen, we refer you to a fertility specialist if you want to have a baby.
The endocrine disorders that most often affect fertility include hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormones) and hypothalamic dysfunction. Low thyroid hormones interfere with ovulation.
The hypothalamus in your brain controls the pituitary gland and the pituitary gland releases hormones that control ovarian function.
In addition to causing low levels of the hormones needed to trigger egg maturation, hypothalamic dysfunction leads to low estrogen. Low estrogen causes a multitude of problems, including anovulation (you don’t ovulate).
Hypothyroidism develops due to an autoimmune condition that damages the thyroid gland. We treat this condition with thyroid hormone replacement.
Hypothalamic dysfunction arises due to a problem in your brain, such as an injury, tumor, inflammation, or blood vessel disorder.
You can also have hypothalamic dysfunction as a result of:
- A genetic disorder
- An eating disorder
- Extreme weight loss
- Excessive exercise
- Chronic stress
The best treatment depends on the cause of your hypothalamic problem.
If you have questions about ovulation and fertility, call our office on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City or book an appointment online today.