What is anovulation – and an anovulatory cycle?
When you are trying to conceive, your menstrual cycle and ovulation suddenly become topics of huge interest. An area of your life which was previously tolerated but definitely not celebrated becomes a subject of curiosity and significance. Your period goes from being an irritation to “Day one” of your cycle. You become body aware and have figured out that it is important to know your most fertile days and when you ovulate. So far you have started tracking your cycle and know when your fertile window is, you have your predicted ovulation highlighted on the calendar and are watching for the subtle hints your body gives you that ovulation is imminent. You have bought your femSense patches and are eagerly awaiting your “ovulation detected” notification. Instead, you get the message “We found no indication of ovulation during this cycle”. What? Why not? What did I do? Does this mean I don’t ovulate?
Why haven’t I ovulated?
Don’t panic! It is perfectly normal and there are several different reasons why a woman might skip ovulation occasionally. A cycle where a woman doesn’t ovulate is called an anovulatory cycle. Anovulatory cycles can be caused by lifestyle factors as well as medical conditions. Studies show that most women have one or two months per year where they don’t ovulate, although they probably won’t even notice. The bleeding you experience after an anovulatory cycle is technically not a period, but rather an oestrogen breakthrough bleed caused by low progesterone levels and a buildup in the lining of the uterus. If you were not using ovulation tests you would probably just think your period was irregular that month.
What causes Anovulation?
Sudden changes in hormone levels or hormone imbalance caused by health issues, medicines or lifestyle factors are the main causes of anovulatory cycles. Lifestyle factors include body weight that is too high or too low, extreme exercise, jet lag, sickness, high levels of stress and bad eating habits. Healthy nutrition and regular exercise are easier to control than sickness or stress but knowing the root cause of a problem makes it easier to understand and find a solution. Medicines which can affect ovulation include hormonal birth control, some steroids, some herbs and natural remedies and even anti-inflammatory pain relievers. Health conditions which can affect ovulation include PCOS or thyroid problems.
Anovulatory cycles are most common at the beginning and end of the childbearing years i.e. younger girls just starting their menstrual cycles and older women close to menopause. For most women the occasional anovulatory cycle is no cause for concern, it only becomes an issue when you are trying to conceive, and every month counts. Keep in mind that physical and psychological stress such as sleepless nights, long haul travel, training for a marathon, illness or an emotional stress like the death of a loved one can trigger hormones that can temporarily suppress ovulation, but it does not mean that you are infertile or have a problem. Your system will normalize as soon as your lifestyle does.