Womens Health

Pregnancy Questions & FAQs

From the Woman's Diagnostic Cyber - Frederick R. Jelovsek MD
Infertility and Getting Pregnant


How can I tell pregnancy symptoms from PMS symptoms?

I have been trying to become pregnant for some time. Each month before my period I am very anxious to know whether "this is it" or not. Almost every month before my period I have symptoms similar to pregnancy symptoms (breast tenderness, nausea, sleepiness, etc.). These symptoms usually start on day 17 or 18 and fluctuate until my period starts. I also begin having mild cramps occasionally on these days. My question is this: how can I discriminate between pregnancy symptoms and PMS symptoms?

You often can't. Pregnancy symptoms shouldn't start before before implantation on day 20-21 but usually don't start until day 26 or later.

Do I just have to wait and see if I menstruate each month?

Basically, yes. There is a quantitative pregnancy test at the doctor's office that is not usually run just to confirm pregnancy unless it is suspected you are having very early miscarriages. You might talk your doctor into ordering the quantitative beta- HCG test one time on a day or two before your menses just to check that you are not a rare person who has very early miscarriages. Usually physicians don't do that unless you've been trying 6 months or more, but it wouldn't hurt to ask.

It creates a lot of anxiety to be so unsure during the 2 weeks before menstruation. Also, I'm afraid to drink alcohol (I like wine with my meals) if I may be pregnant, but I can never tell for sure.

There is no known level of alcohol that is safe to consume during pregnancy. In fact, more and more studies have shown that pregnant women are exceeding the previous acceptable levels of alcohol consumption and new recommendations have been put forth. Alcohol is known to be harmful to fetal development, and any time a pregnant woman drinks beer, wine, liquor, wine coolers or mixed drinks, the alcohol passes through the placenta and reaches the developing baby. This can cause permanent defects to the major organs and central nervous system in development. It is never a good idea to drink alcohol in any form while pregnant, and it is recommended that any woman who suspects a pregnancy avoid alcohol altogether.

By the way, I am a week away from menstruation right now and I have ALL the symptoms listed above and then some. Can I take a pregnancy test now, or is it too early?

Too early. Wait until about 4 or 5 more days and a sensitive test may pick it up. If negative, repeat it at about 4 days after missed menses.


Infection after tubal reversal

I had a tubal reversal about 5 months ago and a subsequent infection. I have been told that I have one blocked tube (distally) and one patent tube which showed some signs of adhesions. I am scheduled for a lap to remove adhesions not just in tube, but also in pelvic area. I previously had 3 c-sect and never had any adhesions. Does that fact mean I have better odds of the adhesions not returning and do you know what the treatments are for adhesions within the tube?

I assume by "lap" you are referring to laparoscopy rather than an open incision, laparotomy. The laparoscopy should have a low occurrence of adhesions afterward. The fact that you don't seem to form adhesions is favorable too, but with an open laparotomy there would still be more of a chance for adhesion formation.

At the time of laparoscopy, the doctor will probably do a tubal insufflation by injecting fluid into the uterus and tubes. Often this is enough to open adhesions inside the tube. Sometimes some operative incisions (using laparoscopy instruments) is needed to open an adhesion right at the end of the tube. If the re anastomosis site on the one blocked tube is still ok, this is all that will probably have to be done. If that site is blocked, you may need more of an open laparotomy to fix it depending upon what's wrong.


Anovulatory bleeding and trying to get pregnant

I am 30 years old, and at age 18 my general practitioner put me on BC pills to cure abnormal bleeding. I stayed on the pill for 7 years until I had blood pressure problems. After being taken off, my real problems began. I had no periods for 8 mos. then it was pill induced by Provera® for 2 mos. then I had a period that would last 30 days or more. After many tests my general practitioner sent me to an OB-GYN specialist.

He continued the Provera®, did a hysterosalpingogram and found a blocked tube. Knowing that I wanted to start a family he began fertility treatment. After months of Provera®, Clomid®, and frustration, I stopped all the madness and said forget it.

My periods regulated to three weeks of bleeding and a period every two to three months for about three years.Then I had a heavy bleed that lasted 45 days so bad that I couldn't even get out of bed and became pale and hypovolemic. My doctor sent me to a new OB-GYN. He explained what he thought was happening and again gave me Provera®, but this time it did not work. He proceeded with Lupron® shots and that did the trick. But my bleeding remained very heavy and lasted weeks for each period.

He has done much blood work, many ultra sounds and another hysterosalpingogram to find both tubes unblocked. Again I had a round of bleeding that was just horrid and unstoppable. Because it was right before our vacation, I was put on 10 days of Provera® followed by 5 days of Clomid®. In the middle of my vacation I had very painful mid cycle bleeding that brought me home and put me in the ER only days after stopping the Clomid®. They did an ultrasound and said that there was not much they could do to stop the bleeding, only the pain. That was about 8 weeks ago. The bleeding stopped a few days later, and now I have only have spotting after intercourse and nothing else. Not knowing where I am in my cycle makes it impossible to even calculate ovulation. PLEASE HELP!!!

The bleeding (spotting) after intercourse is probably due to either direct irritation of the cervix or from starting up endometrial bleeding that is due to you basic problem of anovulation. Since you have had many blood studies done, your doctors must have some idea of what type of anovulation you have, i.e., hypothalamic amenorrhea, polycystic ovarian disease, hyperprolactinemia, etc. Clomid® may be used to induce ovulation in any of those so that is not helpful.

One of the main problems now it seems, is that the therapy is focusing on two goals, regulating the bleeding and inducing ovulation so as to get pregnant, that usually require almost the opposite therapy. One solution might be to just focus on the abnormal bleeding and get that straightened out, and then resume the fertility induction.

With so much abnormal bleeding, it is not safe to assume it only is dysfunctional, anovulatory bleeding even though you are young. Mechanical causes (polyps, fibroids) need to be ruled out with a hysteroscopy and D&C if that hasn't already been done. Also bleeding due to other unusual diseases such as coagulation problems (Von Willebrand's disease), thyroid problems (I'm sure this has already been checked), other medical diseases and medications need to be ruled out. When all of these have been done, the next step might be to regulate your periods with something like Premphase® which is used in the perimenopausal/postmenopausal period to regulate bleeding and still produce a monthly menses.

Presuming the Premphase® would regulate you so that there was no more abnormal bleeding for about 3 or 4 months, then you might consider retrying the Clomid® therapy to induce ovulation or whatever your doctor feels is needed.

At this point I would suggest making another visit to your doctor to discuss the bleeding after intercourse and let him examine you to make sure there are not local cervical factors, irritation etc., causing the bleeding. Then discuss the above plan as you and he think it applies. Agree on any plan or modification of the above so that you can have a systematic approach to getting over all of these problems. He will probably benefit from some regrouping in plan as much as you will.


What counts as trying to get pregnant?

I was on the pill for 2 years. Then my husband and I used the withdrawal method faithfully (he ALWAYS pulled out) for 2 years. For the past year we have used no birth control and have tried to have sex before and during ovulation to get pregnant. For the past 5 months I have done the BBT chart and mucous exam to determine when to have sex. First of all, would the 2 years using withdrawal be considered "infertile" years since it is such an unreliable method?

Not really. I see your point though.

And, would the first 5 months of this year be "infertile" months since we were only casually trying to get pregnant?


I need to know when to seek treatment for infertility. It seems like we've been trying a long time.

I would go ahead and make an appointment now. You are approaching the time when there may be something wrong that can be corrected. Any of the studies done don't interfere with getting pregnant so you can still try while the early work-up is taking place.


My period is a month late

My period is a month late. is it too soon to take a pregnancy test?

If you have regular monthly periods and you are now one month late (i.e., 2 months since the first day of your last normal menstrual period); then no, it is not too early to take a pregnancy test. In fact if you are pregnant you would probably see a heart beat on ultrasound by now.


Will bleeding interfere with conception or implantation?

It is time for my ovulation and I am trying to get pregnant, but I sometimes have a single, light spot of blood whenever I use the bathroom (a little heavier with a bowel movement) and usually only after straining. For most of the month it is normal for me and I never paid it much attention until now. Will it interfere with me conceiving?

No. The spotting should not interfere with conception.

I posted before about bleeding after a bowel movement and conceiving. I am now 3 days post ovulation and today after a bowel movement I began bleeding heavily with blobs of blood and cramping. It lasted about 3-4 hours and is now subsiding, but I'm still worried if it will affect conceiving. Am I just worrying too much?

If you are bleeding heavily such that it can "wash" sperm out of the cervix, then it will decrease the chance of getting pregnant. If it's just spotting, it shouldn't affect it.

Since I was 3 days post ovulation when the bleeding started, if I conceive this month then conception had already happened before the bleeding started. So I guess what I'm really worried about is if the fertilized egg will be able to attach itself if I am steadily bleeding. As of today the bleeding has slowed but not stopped.

Implantation occurs about day 7-9 after fertilization. It implants in the uterus usually in the top or top-back on a very small area. I see why you are worried about the bleeding. If it continues heavy it could prevent implantation. It's still very possible, however, so just wait it out to see what happens.


How long for a tubal reversal to heal?

I recently had a tubal reversal, how long does it take for your tubes to be fully healed?

It takes about 4-6 weeks. Your doctor will probably have you wait two cycles before trying to get pregnant.


Progesterone and luteal phase deficiency

I'm hoping you can help me to interpret the results of my biopsy. It showed that I have a multi phasic problem. The doctor said that the lining measures anywhere from 17-24 days and that this is not normal. I was on day 23. What does this mean and how is it treated in someone who is trying to conceive (TTC).

According to some experts (not all), this indicates a relative progesterone deficiency in the luteal phase such that an embryo intending to implant and grow in the endometrium (attach to uterus) does not see a "ripe" site to attach to. Many experts believe this has to be demonstrated in a least 2 cycles to conclude an "inadequate luteal phase". Luteal phase defect can also be diagnosed by a serum progesterone drawn about 7 days after ovulation (day 21) with a value of less than 10 ng/ml.

As far as treatment goes, luteal phase defect is one infertility condition whose treatment becomes convoluted with the overwhelming desire to do something, rather than nothing, even if the treatment is not effective. While physicians recognize that such a condition as luteal phase defect exists, its treatment is unproven.

If a menstrual cycle is less than 28 days or a day 21-22 luteal phase progesterone is below 10 or 14 ng/ml or a BBT does not show 12 days or more of temp elevation, many women are led to believe that they should take progesterone supplements under the premise that they have a luteal phase defect.

This concept can be wrong on two accounts. First of all. any one cycle can be abnormal and have a short luteal phase, a biopsy of the uterine lining that is out of phase or a low progesterone level, but it is not a regular recurring pattern. A woman needs to have at least two menstrual cycles with either biopsies that show out of phase endometrium or progesterone levels on day 7-8 after proven ovulation of less than 10 ng/ml in order to conclude that luteal phase defect might play a role in their conception difficulties.

Secondly, it is unlikely that any progesterone supplementation either by shot or by vaginal suppositories improves the ability to get pregnant. Only one randomized controlled study has looked at this that I could find. It found no significant improvement in pregnancy rates. Non randomized studies have had the same outcome with most showing no benefit and some occasionally showing a difference. This kind of evidence would suggest that progesterone supplementation for luteal defects is probably not beneficial.

Clomid is another treatment used for luteal defects and although it improves luteal progesterone levels, the few studies done do not show an improved pregnancy rate in the case of "luteal phase defects".

Well if it doesn't hurt, why not use it on the chance it might help? Some reasons might be:

  1. Progesterone sometimes delays menses even though pregnancy does not occur thus delaying the next attempt at conceiving.
  2. We do not know if there are subtle, long term effects of taking progesterone in early pregnancy because it has not had large scale, long term studies.
  3. There is an unnecessary expense involved and
  4. it produces false hope.

The intent of this is not to discourage women who are trying to conceive and may have evidence of luteal phase defects. Women need to understand that when no clear evidence for a treatment exists, accepting an experimental treatment involves risks. Also, shopping around for a physician who will give you some treatment rather than none also involves risks.


Positive Pregnancy Test But Then Menses

I took one of the dBest® pregnancy tests two days ago which also happened to be the day after I was to start my period. The test came up positive before 2 minutes and remains to be positive today. Unfortunately I started my period that evening. In your experience are these tests that unreliable or am I a special case?

This also happened to my sister in law the same exact way only she started her period a week later. I was very disappointed when I started my period after I trusted the d best test to be reliable. Please respond so I can understand the problem. Oh, I did take the test exactly as the instructions stated. Heart Broken.

There is less than a 1 in 200 chance that you have had a false positive. The test is extremely reliable. It is extremely likely that you had, or have, a pregnancy. There are basically 2 possibilities:

  1. You have had a "chemical" pregnancy which actually ends in an early miscarriage so that menses is either not even delayed at all or minimally delayed less than 2 weeks. We know that of all pregnancies, at least 25% end up as these chemical pregnancies. The dBest® test is very sensitive to only 20 mIU and can pick these up. Some of the store tests sensitive at 40mIU will miss them.
    Chemical Pregnancies

  2. You still are pregnant and have just had bleeding in early pregnancy. Don't test too soon again, but in about 2 weeks, test again to make sure you are not pregnant.

It is actually a very good sign for you that this pregnancy test is positive even if this pregnancy is just a chemical one. It means you definitely can get pregnant. i.e., the passageway is open, you ovulate, and the sperm can impregnate an egg.

Let me know how this resolves. There is one other rare category in which the pregnancy test stays positive but the pregnancy does not progress normally and we become worried about a missed miscarriage or a tubal pregnancy. That is why you should follow the test to negative or have a blood test (quantitative bHCG) at your doctor's office.


When to get pregnant after a miscarriage

I miscarried very early in my pregnancy, at about 4 weeks. Is there some amount of time I should wait before trying to conceive again? I have heard anything from no time to 3 months.

There has always been concern, with data to support it, that if a woman gets pregnant sooner than about 6 months after a previous pregnancy, the complications such as low birth weight, placental problems and preterm labor are more frequent than in a woman who has waited longer after her pregnancy to become pregnant (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). There are many factors involved in the choice or circumstances of becoming pregnant. Also, we do not know if the outcome after a previous term pregnancy is going to be the same as after a pregnany that miscarries (6).

You would think that it would be easy to determine when the best time is to get pregnant after a miscarriage to minimize a future miscarriage (spontaneous abortion) or minimize a problem with a low birthweight or premature infant. It is not easy however, because the decision to try to conceive depends upon many factors which are influenced by a woman's previous reproductive performance. If a woman knows she has difficulty conceiving or is getting older and feels time is running out, she will try to conceive as quickly as possible after a previous pregnancy loss. We know that women who are older or who are subfertile will have higher miscarriage rates (7) so if you include their data, it will always look as if a short interpregancy interval will lead to a higher miscarriage rate.

As far as getting pregnant after a miscarriage, you can start trying whenever you want because we do not know of adverse data following just a spontaneous miscarriage. In fact some older data implies that there is no increase in the abortion rate in women who quickly conceive following a previous spontaneous abortion (8). Following a pregnancy, it appears that the best time to conceive with the least frequency of complications is about 18-23 months (9). Under 6 months the percent increase in problems is enough that most physicians do not recommend becoming pregnant.

You may want to know what the chance of having another miscarriage is if you have had one or more already. Based upon clinically recognized pregnancies, not chemical ones, the chance of a subsequent miscarriage according to one study is (10):

    Overall general rate 11%
    After one miscarriage 16%
    After two miscarriages 25%
    After three miscarriage 45%
    After four miscarriages 54%

While the evidence does not clearly indicate that conceiving too soon leads to an increased incidence of miscarriage, there is indirect evidence that if you do get pregnant sooner than 6 months after a pregnancy of any type, that the outcome may lead to complications if pregnancy occurs. For that reason, I support taking a break of at least 6 months before trying to conceive again after a miscarriage. If you do get pregnant in that time, o.k. But don't put non stop pressure on yourself to conceive.


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