Can you ovulate but not get a period?

I have heard in quite a few places now that it is possible to be ovulating regularly but not getting a period, or women think they are ovulating but not getting that monthly bleed.

Women who are experiencing amenorrhea will most likely ovulate before they get their first post-amenorrhea period. (A few get an anovulatory period; bleeding without ovulation beforehand). If one happens to have intercourse around the time of this ovulation, it is absolutely possible to get pregnant, therefore getting pregnant without ever getting a period. And that’s where the idea of ovulation without a period arises.

But, monthly ovulation without getting a period is only feasible under very limited circumstances:

  1. On the Mirena IUD. The hormone doses are low enough that they do not affect the reproductive system in general; locally the hormones prevent buildup of the uterine lining and thus many women on the Mirena IUD will ovulate but not get a period. (Note that the manufacturer states the Mirena should only be used in women who have been pregnant.)
  2. A physical abnormality that prevents bleeding, such as Asherman’s syndrome or a reproductive system defect that does not allow for discharge of the uterine lining.
  3. As stated above, if pregnancy occurs on the first post-amenorrhea ovulation.

Barring that…. The mechanism does not seem plausible.

In a normal menstrual cycle, the egg-containing follicle starts growing at the beginning of the cycle and the uterine lining is thin. As egg/follicle growth and maturation continues, estradiol is secreted. The estradiol leads to an increase in the thickness of the uterine lining. The lining thickens as the dominant follicle is selected and proceeds to maturation. When the egg/follicle is mature, the increased estradiol leads to a sharp peak in luteinizing hormone (LH) that causes ovulation.

I do not believe that it is possible to have this LH surge without sufficient estradiol (and therefore a thick lining to shed).

And while it may be true in a small minority of cases that the lining does not respond to estradiol and get thicker (this IS the case with the Mirena IUD), in a normal menstrual cycle the lining will thicken. My suspicion is that if a woman’s lining did not respond to estradiol by thickening, that would always have been the case and she would never have gotten a period – primary amenorrhea.

After ovulation, progesterone is secreted by the cells that surrounded the now-released egg, maintaining the thickness of the lining and causing other changes that prepare the lining to accept an embryo. If no pregnancy occurs, progesterone drops and the lining is shed.

If progesterone levels are lower than normal, the lining is shed earlier.

What do you think? If you believe you’re ovulating but not getting a period, have you confirmed an increase in LH by ovulation predictor kits, or confirmed ovulation through temperature charting?

If you are getting changes in cervical mucus each month that seem to indicate ovulation, but no bleed, it is possible that your body is trying to ovulate but not quite succeeding.  If that’s the case… Look into whether you might have hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA). (Asherman’s syndrome should also be ruled out.)

Nico

Menstrual Cycle Hormones

Whenever someone asks me about levels of menstrual cycle-related hormones during their cycle and the answer isn’t obvious I go to the figure below from Wikimedia (this article). What I love about it is that it shows the average (bold blue line) and then the biological variability around that average (dark blue shaded area)… and then also how much this can vary between cycles and between women.The figure is based on a study performed in 2006 that measured hormone levels in 20 ‘normally cycling women’ not on birth control pills. The data were reanalyzed in 2014 and these figures created.

One example of when I might refer to these figures is if someone tells me that they’ve just had blood drawn, they don’t know what cycle day they’re on (e.g. have not yet had their first post-HA or first postpartum period), and LH was measured at 17 and estradiol at 215 pg/mL. I can check these figures and see that that most likely corresponds to just before ovulation. If LH is 17 and e2 is 85 pg/mL that might mean that ovulation has just occurred. If LH is 17 and estradiol is 30 pg/mL then I might suggest inducing a bleed and testing a hormone panel to determine if PCOS might be in play.

I think what is unique and particularly helpful in these figures is the inclusion of variability so one has an idea of the typical range for these hormones. Let me know if you have any questions!

Nico

 

 

Reader Questions

I thought that now that my kids were back in school I’d have all kinds of time to post here – but somehow between being PTA president, starting a PTO at my youngest’s preschool, getting involved in local politics, reading a bunch of books and starting to lift weights again (because I was feeling weak NOT for body sculpting purposes), and yes, getting a little mired in the national election coverage too… not so much. But hopefully this will start a new routine!

I asked in my facebook group for questions people would like answered. If you have anything else you’d like me to address, pop it in the comments and I will do so on another post!

1. What do you think about soy and other estrogen increasing foods?

Many people think that the issue when one has HA is low estrogen. This is not the case. The issue is that your hypothalamus is not sending the signals to your reproductive system. Once your hypothalamus turns back on again, your estrogen will rise appropriately. So as far as foods go – I advocate moderation on all fronts. It’s fine to eat some soy but I see no need to specifically increase the amount you’re currently eating. If you’re eating a “lot,” I’d advocate cutting down and substituting with other protein and fat sources simply in the interests of eating as many different types of foods as possible.

2. Does color and length of your period indicate anything?

This one actually comes up a lot! Many women are afraid that their period is “too light” when they start cycling again. My ‘normal’ post pregnancy has been one heavy day (which I define as filling a regular tampon every 2-4 hours), a medium day (filling a tampon every 6 hours or so), two light days (a tampon every ~12 hours) and then a day or two of spotting. Something around that seems to be reasonably common. Some women obviously have much heavier periods, some have significantly lighter periods – but anecdotally I haven’t noticed a correlation with ease of getting pregnant. Also, interestingly, it seems that not all the lining is shed as “blood” but some can actually be resorbed into the uterus. So I think that really what is important is what is normal for you. If your periods after recovery are much lighter than before, that may indicate a need to relax a little further on the exercise, eat a bit more, or see what you can do about relaxing (all of which we cover in our book :)). If they’re much heavier, you may want to check in with your doctor, just in case there is another issue at play like endometriosis. If they’re normal for you, however heavy or long that may be – chances are excellent that everything is fine. If you are trying to conceive and not getting pregnant, you can discuss with your doctor, but barring that – go with the flow. (yes, pun intended ;))

3. How long will it take to recover?

In a previous post I discussed whether time to recovery was associated with length of time without a period, and the answer in that case seems to be no. The median time to recover is about six months – some shorter, some longer. In general, the more quickly you are able to go “all in” the more quickly you will recover your cycles. I wish there was a formula I could plug your information into that would spit out an answer – but unfortunately life doesn’t work like that. Your particular recovery formula will depend on what your BMI was/is and how quickly you’re able to increase that to a ‘fertile’ BMI of 22+, how much exercise you did and what you’re doing now, what your food intake looks like (hint: the more variety the better, assuming sufficient energy), and what your daily stress and anxiety levels are (and unfortunately this is a vicious circle because stressing out over how long it will take to recover can make it take longer!).

4. I can’t go all in. I don’t trust the process.

From my experience what really helps here is seeing other women recover. (Read the success stories in our book and join my facebook group!) When you find someone just like you and read about what they did to restore cycles or get pregnant, it makes it that much easier to believe that it can and will happen for you. Keep reading the successes, keep listening to the other amazing resources that are out there (I cannot recommend Meret Boxler’s podcasts enough, she will introduce you to everyone you need to know in this arena), do as much as you can to work toward recovery (fake it ’til you make it) and one day it will click for you too. I have seen it countless times. It will come.

5. How do you track food while in recovery and know you’re eating enough?

This is a tough one because really, tracking is a big part of the problem. So it’s hard to see it as part of the solution too – but I know that when you’re starting on this path from a place where you are tracking it is hard to let that go. What I did initially was to increase the amount of calories I was allowing myself each day (“allowing”…that’s a whole different topic) and I continued meticulously tracking as I had been. I’m a numbers person so that was hard for me to let go. But there came a time when I’d skip a day… and that quickly grew to two and three and then to not tracking at all anymore. At that point I had a good sense of how much I needed to eat each day and I was much better at listening to my hunger signals. If you’re not tracking now I wouldn’t suggest starting unless *maybe* you log your food intake for a day just to see where you’re at. Really the best way to know you’re eating enough is two-fold: 1) if you’re under a fertile BMI to make sure you are gaining, and 2) notice your fertile signs (chapter 16) and obviously return of your period. And yes you often have to go beyond what feels comfortable for you, both in the amount you’re eating and in how much weight you gain… but I *promise* you, the return of your cycles and your fertility is worth that discomfort. Again – seek out success stories and read about how little women care about what their body looks like when they see that first sign of red, or get their positive pregnancy test.

6. If a period was lost with no exercise, will adding exercise while eating more calories, fat, carbs delay recovery?

Abso-freaking-lutely yes. I was over in a different facebook group today and a women commented on how she had just started a new exercise routine, going five days a week instead of the one she had been doing, and how her ovulation was six days late (and still nowhere to be seen). Especially if your body isn’t accustomed to it, the increased cortisol from exercise can do a number on your hypothalamus. Walking and yoga, *light intensity* are probably okay but I would add even those slowly. Also, I noticed a big effect of exercise on my own cycles (p. 162 in our book) even while gaining weight.

I hope you found this helpful, and if there’s anything else you’d like to know, drop a comment!

Self doubt

I was talking the other day with my friend Meret about how so many of us are able to be kind and compassionate to others, but not to ourselves. We see the best in our friends, acquaintances, strangers, both in terms of looks and accomplishments, but struggle to find something pleasant to say to ourselves. Or we look around at the work that others are doing and admire it, but cannot find the value in our own endeavors.

I’ve been struggling with the latter recently. Since finishing our book, and now working on getting the word out, I find myself plagued by doubts on a daily basis. I have three half-written blog posts because I get something started and then go out and find that someone else has done it better. Or I look at another website and it’s all splashy and pretty, but this one is like me – simple and straightforward. And in comparison I feel … less. Not worthy.

But at the same time, I’m NOT splashy and glittery, it’s not who I am and even when I try it just feels wrong. So I’m holding myself up to a standard of comparison that I can never attain. And so I find myself lacking motivation, lacking purpose, just lacking.

I suck at social media. I’m an introvert, I have never ever been comfortable in the limelight, I don’t brag about my accomplishments (because most of the time I don’t feel they’re particularly special), I’m never ever good enough. For me. Everyone else seems to be impressed, but I always find what’s wrong, what I could or should have done better.

I don’t know how to fix this. I have gotten past caring what other people think about how I personally look – everyone I know is way more wrapped up in their life than to give two hoots about whether I’m a size 2 or a size 10, whether my eyebrows are perfectly plucked or not (generally not LOL), whether my hair is beautifully coiffed or thrown back in a pony tail (again, almost always the latter)… and if they do notice, so what? Really, no effect on my life at all if someone notices that my hair is a little greasy because I haven’t showered since yesterday. Or the day before. Or maybe even the day before that (when I get to the point when I can’t remember the last time I showered that’s a good sign I do actually need to). So my physical appearance, I’m good. I’m done with buying into the myth that I need to live up to some beauty ideal.

But. I cannot apply that same principle and wisdom to my work. Because it matters so much more to me that people like and appreciate what I DO, because that is what defines me. I am so passionate about helping other women to likewise let go of the strictures of our society as far as appearance goes, letting go of the rules that we’re supposed to follow about what to eat and not to eat, how much to exercise, that the “epitome of health” comes in a pre-pubescent-looking package. But I am really struggling with how to share that passion because of all the doubt I feel about “not doing it right.” I am totally new to anything more than facebook and I feel lost as to the etiquette. That makes me feel really tentative and scared and like I’m doing everything wrong and I’m going to be ostracized.

I think I just have to forget about potentially being perceived as too self-promoting, and be more like I am with my appearance – just say what I feel like saying and hey, if you don’t like it, go somewhere else. But if you have any tips, I’m all ears!!

I’d also love to know if you have similar thoughts and feelings. And how do you encourage yourself to just keep pushing through?