During normal ovulation, the luteal phase is the 12 to 16 days between ovulation and menstruation. During a woman's luteal phase, progesterone levels increase and the uterine lining (endometrium) thickens to create a healthy environment for egg implantation and eventual embryonic and fetal growth.
What is a luteal phase defect?
Luteal phase defects impact a woman’s ovulation cycle and can make it difficult to experience a healthy pregnancy. This condition is characterized by low progesterone levels and limited uterine lining growth, which can impede egg implantation and fetal development.
Women with a short luteal phase of 10 days or less will have lower progesterone levels and thinner endometrial lining. These factors make it considerably more difficult to become and stay pregnant.
Symptoms of luteal phase defect
Many women with this condition are unaware they have it until they experience trouble conceiving or suffer pregnancy loss. Some symptoms of a luteal phase defect include:
- Spotting between periods
- Difficulty conceiving
- Breast swelling, pain or tenderness
- Mood changes
- Weight gain
- Food cravings
- Changes in sexual desire
- Difficulty sleeping
A woman may realize she has a luteal phase defect when tracking her ovulation cycle and noticing there is a shortened period of time between ovulation and menstruation.
Causes of luteal phase defect
Any woman can develop a luteal phase defect when progesterone production drops. Certain health conditions may increase the risk of luteal phase defect, such as:
- Underactive or overactive thyroid
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Extreme amounts of exercise
Diagnosing luteal phase defect
Women experiencing difficulties becoming or staying pregnant can have several hormone levels checked via a simple blood draw:
- Progesterone hormone surges after ovulation and supports the endometrium.
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates ovarian follicle growth and is released by the pituitary gland.
- Luteinizing hormone (LH) triggers ovulation.
A luteal phase defect can be managed with lifestyle changes, supplements and medications, or a combination of measures.
Treatments for luteal phase defect
Addressing the underlying cause of suppressed progesterone levels is typically part of luteal phase defect treatment. Women may need to make lifestyle changes, like reducing stress through breathing exercises, or losing weight with moderate exercise. Progesterone levels may also be increased, extending the length of the luteal phase with the help of certain supplements and medications.
Your doctor may prescribe you:
- Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG), which stimulates the production of progesterone
- Clomiphene citrate, which stimulates the production of FSH and LH and triggers ovulation