Hormone deficiencies or imbalances between the various hormone levels are the principal cause or a key indicator leading to underlying causes of most infertility. Generally, you won't know whether your hormones are okay until your gynecologist orders blood tests when you begin infertility diagnosis.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are chemicals produced by your own body, in your endocrine gland, and are carried through your blood to various parts of your body to control or regulate body functions. They can affect your metabolism, growth, immunity, reproduction and other functions. Effects are mostly physical, but some emotional responses also may be influenced. Hormones aren't good or bad, they are just there in your body, and have to be checked and treated if the levels are keeping you from becoming pregnant.
Hormone levels are measured by the lab where your blood and urine samples will be collected. They may be tested at multiple times during your cycle. The most important hormones affecting you fertility include:
- FSH - follicle-stimulating hormone - crucially important for development of follicles in the ovaries that lead to egg production
- hCG - human chorionic gonadotrophin - made after conception that stimulates production of progesterone (another hormone) needed to support pregnancy
- LH - luteinizing hormone - necessary to support the production of estrogen and progesterone and needed for release of ovulation-ready eggs
- Estrogen - supports the production of uterine lining which is needed for firm implanting of the fertilized egg
For your partner, diagnosing infertility may simply be completed by a semen analysis ordered by a urologist. If the lab-collected sample shows semen that passes standards for quantity and quality, there is no further diagnosis required. He would be deemed fertile because he is able to deliver what he must supply for conception to occur.
If the analysis shows abnormalities, however, his blood will be tested for testosterone - the main male hormone - and also for levels of LH and FSH because they may affect sperm quantity and quality.
Hormone Functions and Timing
Knowing terminology of phases within your menstrual cycle can help you understand how your hormones function and interact. Menstrual cycle phases:
- Follicular - days 1 - 13 days (day one is the first day of menstrual flow)
- Ovulation - days 14 - 17
- Luteal - after ovulation, days 18 - 29
During the follicular phase, follides in your ovaries normally produce one mature egg. Doctors may treat low-FSH patients with an injection of Gonal-f to improve the likelihood of egg production. And the doctor can inject LH if you have low LH levels. Estradiol (another hormone) will also be monitored to prevent early ovulation. If it is too high, the doctor can inject Cetrotide to slow down ovulation until the egg is mature.
During ovulation, your LH should peak to ensure sufficient levels of estrogen and progesterone for fertilization to occur. During this phase, you should engage in frequent intercourse to increase your chances to fertilize the egg.
During the luteal phase, your progesterone level can be monitored to ensure the uterus will be ready to receive and implant the fertilized egg. If your progesterone is low, the doctor can prescribe medication to raise the level.
If your doctor finds hormone deficiencies or imbalances, they can usually be treated successfully by taking prescribed medication or getting hormone injections. You can usually expect to become pregnant without further treatment.