This excerpt from The Cycle was written by Jennifer Aldoretta
When you know what is normal and healthy for your cycle, it’s easy to detect when reproductive health might be on the decline. Things like stress, lack of sleep, too much exercise, illness, diet, and major life events can all delay ovulation and interfere with the menstrual cycle, so it comes as no surprise that taking a deeper look at a person’s cycle reveals a great deal about the state of that individual’s health. Charting your fertility signs using the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness can assist in the diagnosis of many reproductive (and non-reproductive) health disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), luteal phase defect, and low thyroid function, to name a few. I would highly recommend getting in touch with a fertility awareness educator or menstrual health expert if you (or your partner) struggle with any of these disorders.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, is an endocrine disorder that often results in anovulation (or the absence of ovulation), and is a common cause of infertility. This anovulation generally results in long, highly irregular menstrual cycles. Individuals who suffer from PCOS may notice that they never see the rise in BBT associated with ovulation. This can lead to waves or long stretches of fertile cervical fluid that never result in ovulation. Oftentimes, the “menstruation” experienced by folks with PCOS is not menstruation in the true sense of the word. The “menstruation” they experience is merely withdrawal bleeding—similar to the bleeding experienced by hormonal contraceptive users. A typical PCOS chart can be seen on the next page. If you (or your partner) suffer from PCOS and are interested in using the sympto-thermal method (STM) to avoid or achieve a pregnancy, I recommend that you get in touch with a fertility awareness educator.
People with PCOS typically experience very long cycles and erratic temperatures. This individual also experienced long phases of cervical fluid and several false peaks – or peak days that do not end in ovulation – which is common for those with PCOS. A noticeable BBT spike indicating ovulation was also not present. Using STM for pregnancy prevention in this case is beyond the scope of this book.
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Luteal phase defect, or LPD, is marked by unusually low luteal phase progesterone levels or an unusually short luteal phase length—typically 10 days or less—and can result in difficulty conceiving. This difficulty with conception is possibly caused by an interference of the implantation of the embryo. LPD can be medically treated, so don’t fret! Contact your physician or a fertility awareness educator or menstrual health expert if LPD is a potential concern.
It’s not immediately obvious that an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can manifest in the menstrual cycle. This may not be the case for everyone, but BBT is often a good measure of thyroid function. Low thyroid function is defined by an insufficient production of thyroid hormones, leading to symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, constipation, irritability, menstrual irregularities, and low basal body temperature. Although this fact is disputed, many believe that a pre-ovulatory BBT that is consistently lower than 97.0 °F (36.11 ºC) is a sign of sub-clinical hypothyroidism, which may not show up in tests. Contact your physician or fertility awareness educator or menstrual health expert if hypothyroidism is a concern.