Ovulation: Each month, an ovary releases an egg. That’s the start of the whole journey of conception and pregnancy! But what if that first step is delayed? You can try for a baby as many times as you wish, but if your timing is wrong because of a late egg, your chance of conceiving is greatly reduced. Even worse, what if no egg is released at all? How can you figure out what is going on – and what can you do about it?

Types of Ovulation Issues

Ovulation issues account for 30% of female fertility issues. There are a couple different reasons behind delayed ovulation – or even a total lack of ovulation.

Infrequent or delayed ovulation is also known as oligoovulation. Some women have a naturally long menstrual cycle, with ovulation occurring as little as every two months. However, if a woman had a more normal established cycle and then develops oligoovulation, it might be a sign of an underlying condition. For example, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can cause irregular cycles or even stop them altogether.

Anovulation is the term for the failure of the ovaries to release an egg at all. Infrequent or missed ovulation limits the number of times per year that a woman could get pregnant. With fewer opportunities to conceive, the chances of having a baby will obviously be lower for a women experiencing these issues.

Causes of Irregular Ovulation

Whether they’re delayed or absent, ovulation problems are related to hormone imbalances and may be caused by a number of conditions. PCOS is one of the most common causes and is characterized by an overproduction of male hormones, which throws off normal female hormone cycles.

Other conditions that can lead to ovulation issues include diabetes, excessive exercise, and even stress. Certain drugs, including antidepressants, may also contribute to problems with ovulation. Finally, issues can be related to early menopause as the supply of healthy, viable eggs runs out.

Treatments for Irregular Ovulation

The good news is that most cases can be treated and eventually overcome. The preferred method is a drug called clomifene, which induces ovulation by stimulating hormone production. Women treated with clomifene have an increased chance of becoming pregnant with multiple babies (i.e. twins, triplets, etc.).

If drugs like clomifene don’t work, doctors may try hormone therapy. Hormones called gonadotropins can stimulate ovulation 95% of the time, though only 50% – 75% of women who ovulate after the treatment go on to become pregnant. However, hormone therapy is expensive and may have serious side-effects, so doctors must monitor the patient closely.

Before fretting about expensive treatments, however, step one is identifying when you’re ovulating – and collecting data that can help you and your doctor alike get an idea of what is happening inside your body. If you want to learn more about ovulation and ways to track your cycle, we’ve put together a collection of information and resources. If you think you might have developed oligoovulation or stopped ovulating altogether, talk to your doctor about what treatments may be best for you.