Ovulation -- the release of an egg into the fallopian tube -- is a necessary first step in getting pregnant. You can only get pregnant when you ovulate. However, some women face problems related to ovulation, including not releasing an egg every month or not producing eggs mature enough for fertilization. Up to one-fourth of women who are dealing with infertility face these ovulatory problems, reports The American Society for Reproductive Medicine website.
Analyzing the Fertile Window
The days leading up to and including ovulation, which fall around the middle of a woman's monthly cycle, represent the fertile window -- in other words, the time of the month when the egg can be fertilized and a woman can become pregnant. The American Pregnancy Association reports that sperm can live inside a woman's fallopian tube for up to seven days -- with most sperm dying before seven days. When the egg is released during ovulation, it needs to be fertilized within 12 to 24 hours in order for pregnancy to be achieved. As a result, a woman's fertile window typically includes five days before ovulation, ovulation day and the day after ovulation.
Ovulation and Fertility
Ovulation begins the egg's journey to fertilization. If an egg is not released into the Fallopian tube where it meets sperm for fertilization, pregnancy is not possible. Women cannot get pregnant if they are not ovulating. However, even women with consistent cycles sometimes have months when their cycles change and they ovulate at a different time than expected. Women trying to monitor their cycles can use ovulation kits to determine the exact moment of ovulation.
Pregnancy Chances and Ovulation
Some couples might not conceive, even when they have intercourse during the woman's fertile window. Ovulating women have a 20 percent to 37 percent chance of conception in their first three months of trying, notes the American Society for Reproductive Medicine website. Factors that increase the likelihood of pregnancy in ovulating women include having sex at least every other day during the fertile window and maintaining a healthy lifestyle free of excess mercury, smoking and alcohol consumption -- factors that can inhibit conception. Conception can be more difficult in women ages 35 and older, those with polycystic ovary syndrome and those who are extremely underweight or overweight.
When a woman confirms with her doctor that her inability to get pregnant is due to a lack of ovulation, she can choose several methods to induce ovulation. Anti-estrogen receptors are oral medications that can block estrogen receptors to encourage ovulation. Women on these medications require close monitoring by their doctors. These drugs are used in conjunction with intrauterine insemination in ovulatory women or to stimulate ovulation in non-ovulatory women. Women can receive hormonal injections of several key hormones, such as follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone and human chorionic gonadotropin, to trigger ovulation. Some of these injections help prepare women for intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome may respond well to insulin-sensitizing drugs, when used in combination with other medication therapies, to establish an ovulatory cycle.
Intervention Side Effects
These interventions include several potential side effects that affect both the woman and the pregnancy. Depending on the intervention chosen, side effects may include an increased risk of being pregnant with multiples and increased risk of miscarriage or premature birth. Additionally, women may experience headache, nausea, mood swings and breast tenderness when taking ovulation-stimulating drugs.
If you are having trouble conceiving, talk to your health care provider about your fertility to determine the proper course of treatment and assess the potential side effects associated with the treatment.
- American Pregnancy Association: Ovulation
- University of California San Francisco Medical Center, Center for Reproductive Health: Ovulation Induction Services
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine: Optimizing Natural Fertility
- American Pregnancy Association: Determining Your Fertility Window
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine: Medications for Inducing Ovulation
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Infertility in Women
- Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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