The corpus luteum is an integral part of conception. It enables a fertilized egg to implant in the uterine wall. Many conditions can cause a defective corpus luteum.
Developed during the luteal phase, the corpus luteum is responsible for producing and regulating hormones that create a suitable environment for conception. It typically grows and strengthens for a period of the menstrual cycle before enabling pregnancy or dying off, triggering the start of the next menses.
What is the Corpus Luteum and What is its Function?
A woman’s menstrual cycle is the result of the body preparing for pregnancy. The cycle is comprised of four distinct phases: the menstrual phase, the follicular phase, the ovulation phase and the luteal phase. The menstrual phase lasts from the first day of menstruation until the last, typically around five days. During this phase, the uterus sheds its inner lining of soft tissue and blood vessels. The follicular phase also begins on the first day of menstruation but lasts until the 13th day of the cycle. An egg cell matures, becoming encased in a follicle. On the 14th day, ovulation begins. The matured egg cell is released and swept into the fallopian tube where it remains for 24 hours. Finally, the luteal phase is initiated. Either a sperm cell will fertilize the egg and implantation will occur, or the egg will decompose, initiating the next menstrual cycle.
The luteal phase is critical for conception and pregnancy, lasting approximately two weeks (days 15 to 28). As soon as a mature egg emerges from the follicle, a corpus luteum forms in the uterus. Its principle purpose is to regulate crucial hormones such as progesterone that is required for pregnancy to occur and last. Progesterone enables the uterine lining to thicken and become receptive to implantation of a fertilized egg. The corpus luteum continues to produce the necessary raised levels of progesterone; without it, pregnancy does not occur. In this case, the corpus luteum weakens and dies, typically on day 22 of the cycle. The drop in progesterone causes the lining of the uterus to fall, and menstruation beings again.
How Does the Corpus Luteum Affect Fertility?
During the luteal phase, it’s possible for women to experience a defect in the corpus luteum. The defect can occur when there is not enough progesterone present in the uterus to adequately thicken the endometrium. Sometimes, even if progesterone is present, the endometrium does not respond properly and thickening does not occur. Causes of the defect are numerous and vary in severity. They include extreme amounts of exercise, too high/low body mass index (BMI), extreme stress, a short luteal phase, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis and thyroid disorders. A defective corpus luteum can also be caused by unexplained conditions that lead to fertility problems and miscarriage. Symptoms such as early pregnancy loss, spotting and short or frequent periods may all be signs of this defect and a doctor should be consulted.
Tips for Conception
When trying to conceive, there are things you can do to preserve your fertility, enhancing your chances to conceive. Keeping your BMI within a normal range is crucial for maintaining healthy hormonal levels. This can be monitored and controlled by maintaining a healthy lifestyle: exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, making a commitment to relaxation through yoga or meditation, refraining from drinking alcohol and smoking and avoiding toxins in the environment. For those struggling to conceive, tracking ovulation with a reputable home testing device will assist you in getting the timing just right, as well. Most importantly, know your family history. Women suffering from infertility problems may have a trend in their family, whether it be polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis or ovarian insufficiency. Identifying potential problems allows couples and their doctor to move forward in a more mindful and effective fashion, saving a lot of time and frustration.