Irregular Periods, Getting Pregnant, & Infertility: Linked?
The link between a woman's menstrual cycle and her fertility has been long been assumed, but only recently examined. There's still much we don't know about how the two affect one another, but our knowledge has vastly increased over the last few decades. Much medical research has been done regarding women's menstruation and fertility, and as it turns out, the two are sometimes linked.
Periods as a Sign of Infertility
Women with irregular periods may be more likely to suffer from infertility. In these cases, both the irregular menstrual cycle and infertility are usually symptoms of the same medical condition. This condition will often turn out to be endometriosis or ovarian cysts.
A menstrual cycle is, as the name suggests, is a continuous cycle that includes your period. Throughout the rest of the month, your body is still moving through this cycle, although there are rarely any outward signs of it. With reproductive disorders like endo and ovarian cysts, trouble occurs throughout the cycle, and often only becomes visible during a period.
- Endometriosis is a condition in which the uterine lining (what your body sheds during your period) is deposited outside of the uterus. In mild cases, the woman may not be affected in any way. In more severe cases, however, scar tissue will often develop, sometimes leading to infertility. The presence of scar tissue can disrupt the normal reproductive functions in a woman's body, such as the release of eggs, preventing conception or implantation.
- Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a disorder in which cysts form on the ovaries. If these cysts are 'normal' (functional) or small, they likely won't lead to infertility. However, if the cysts grow large enough, they can prevent or impair normal ovulation, which also affects a woman's fertility.
In both of these cases, a woman's menstrual cycle can be disrupted. If an egg is not released, or if the uterine lining cannot be properly expelled, these irregularities may show up as an abnormal period. Excessive pain and unpredictable menstruation are two of the most common symptoms.
However, neither of these conditions necessarily leads to infertility, and infertility may have no outward signs until a couple tries to conceive.
When to Seek Medical Advice
If you're experiencing severe period pain, or if irregular periods are complicating your daily life, you should certainly talk to a doctor. If you know that you suffer from cysts or endo and are planning to become pregnant, it's still important to visit your doctor first, even if your symptoms aren't disruptive. You may not be afflicted with infertility, but conditions like endometriosis can – in some cases – put you at a higher risk for pregnancy complications.
Although it's debated, some doctors believe that avoiding treatment for non-threatening reproductive problems can increase a woman's chance of becoming infertile later. So if you think you may want to become pregnant in the future, you should talk to your gynecologist about early treatment for endo or PCOS.
While there's no medical consensus on why women have periods, they do serve as warning signs for reproductive problems. Paying attention to your body and tracking your menstrual cycles can help you find potential problems while they're still treatable.