The luteal phase is the phase of the ovulation cycle that occurs after the egg has been released and lasts around 2 weeks. During this time, a woman’s body releases progesterone and thickens the lining of the uterus to prepare for pregnancy.
When the luteal phase lasts for 10 days or less, it is known as a short luteal phase or a luteal phase defect.
A woman with a short luteal phase may have a harder time getting or staying pregnant. Her body will not have as much progesterone as a woman with a longer luteal phase. However, treatments are available for women with short luteal phases who wish to become pregnant.
In this article, we take a look at the symptoms of a short luteal phase, along with what causes it and the treatment options that are available.
There are often few symptoms for a woman who has a short luteal phase.
In fact, many women will not realize they have a short luteal phase until they attempt to conceive. A short luteal phase is one major cause of fertility issues in women, and the primary symptom is trouble conceiving.
The symptoms of luteal phase include:
- spotting between periods
- not being able to become pregnant
- early menstrual cycles
A short luteal phase is often the result of the body not producing enough progesterone. The lack of progesterone results in the uterus lining not being thick enough for a fertilized egg to implant or stay implanted.
If a woman becomes pregnant and then suffers a miscarriage, it may be because of a short luteal phase. Without a thick enough uterine wall, the embryo will not be able to stay firmly attached. Often, this results in an early miscarriage.
If the corpus luteum fails to produce enough progesterone, the uterus lining may shed before the fertilized egg implants. Without the thickened lining, the egg will not be able to implant, and the woman will enter her menstrual cycle.
Though any woman may develop a short luteal phase, several health conditions may cause or are risk factors for having a short luteal phase. These conditions include:
- excessive exercise
- too much of the hormone responsible for milk production
- underactive or overactive thyroid
- endometriosis, where tissue in the uterus starts to grow outside of it
- polycystic ovarian syndrome, where enlarged ovaries often have cysts
A woman or a couple seeking to get pregnant will often see a doctor when they have had trouble conceiving. Infertility issues could be caused by a range of different issues and conditions.
A doctor will likely carry out several tests to find out if a short luteal phase is the cause or if there is another condition interfering with getting pregnant.
One of the first tests that a doctor will likely perform is a blood test. The test will measure the levels of certain hormones in the body to help determine the cause of the infertility.
The hormones that the doctor will check levels for include:
- progesterone, which causes the lining of the uterus to thicken
- luteinizing hormone, which starts ovulation
- follicle-stimulating hormone, which controls ovary function
A doctor may also request an ultrasound scan of the pelvis. Specifically, the doctor is looking to see how thick the lining of the uterus is. Also, they will get images of the:
- fallopian tubes
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the short luteal phase. Once the cause is determined, it is often possible to treat the short luteal phase and greatly improve a woman’s chances of getting pregnant.
In some cases, a doctor may prescribe human chorionic gonadotropin supplements. These pregnancy hormones can help the body produce more progesterone, which may help improve the chance of becoming pregnant.
When stress or exercise are causing a problem, treatment often focuses on reducing stress or cutting back on the amount of exercise done in a week.
There are several techniques a person can do to help reduce stress. Some of them include:
- easy-to-moderate exercise
- breathing techniques
- reducing work, personal, and family commitments
A doctor may also prescribe medications to help a woman become pregnant. For example, clomiphene citrate stimulates a woman’s ovaries to produce more follicles. The increased number of follicles increases the number of eggs released.
If one treatment is not working, a doctor may try a different treatment option. Not all treatments will work for all women.
The ovulation cycle is split into two phases. The first phase can last anywhere from a week to over a month and starts immediately following a menstrual cycle. In this phase, referred to as the follicular phase, one of the follicles in the ovaries prepares to release an egg.
When the release of an egg occurs, a woman enters the second phase of her cycle, known as the luteal phase. During this phase, the woman’s body prepares for potential pregnancy.
At the start of this phase, the follicle that released the egg becomes a mass of cells known as the corpus luteum.
The role of the corpus luteum is to release progesterone. This hormone is responsible for stimulating the uterus to grow a thicker lining so that a fertilized egg or embryo may implant. The corpus luteum is very important for a woman trying to get pregnant.
Typically, the luteal phase lasts for about 12 to 16 days. However, for some women, this phase lasts for less than 10 days.
A short luteal phase can make it very difficult for a woman to become pregnant. In most cases, treatment is essential for a woman to regain fertility.
Without treatment, a woman may continually find it impossible to get pregnant or may experience frequent, early miscarriages.
A woman with a short luteal phase will find it difficult to become pregnant or may lose her baby early during the development of the embryo.
A short luteal phase can be corrected once it has been identified, although it may not be evident before someone tries to conceive.
Treatment often involves lifestyle changes, such as finding ways to reduce stress, decreasing excessive exercise, or losing weight.
In other cases, treatment may require taking some medications or hormones to help the body’s chances of becoming pregnant.