Physiological signs of ovulation and fertility readily observable by women

Linacre Q. 2013 Feb;80(1):17-23. doi: 10.1179/0024363912Z.0000000005.


Introduction: Confirmation of ovulation can be difficult in clinical practice, as gold standard methods including serial transvaginal ultrasonography, serum luteinizing hormone (LH) measurements, or laparoscopic follicular observation are impractical. Numerous surrogate markers have been proposed and evaluated in relation to these gold standards that have more practical clinical applications.

Purpose: To review the evidence on physiological signs of ovulation timing and fertility in order to determine valid markers that can be easily identified by women.

Methods: A literature review of primary resources in Ovid Medline was undertaken to identify studies examining physiological signs as they relate to gold standard assessment of ovulation. Studies examining the efficacy/effectiveness of different types of natural family planning were excluded.

Results: The most commonly encountered physiological signs were urine LH, cervical mucus, and basal body temperature (BBT). Urine LH as assessed by home monitoring systems indicated ovulation 91 percent of the time during the 2 days of peak fertility on the monitor and 97 percent during the 2 peak days plus 1. Cervical mucus peak characteristics were identified 78 percent of the time ±1 day, and 91 percent of the time ±2 days of LH surge indicating ovulation. Further research supports the importance of cervical mucus in overall fertility, as conception rates were more closely related to mucus quality than to timing of intercourse related to ovulation. As a lone indicator of ovulation, BBT is at best a retrospective marker, and functions best in conjunction with other signs of ovulation. Additionally, salivary ferning, salivary and vaginal fluid electrical potential, finger-finger electrical potential, and differential skin temperature were postulated as possible indicators, but were not found to be temporally related to ovulation. The research on differential skin temperature is promising, but minimal thus far in number, and has not been evaluated as an adjunct to BBT as yet.

Conclusion: Home urinary LH monitors are becoming more widely available and less expensive giving women the potential to assess the ovulatory status of their cycle in real time. Cervical mucus observation is an effective and cost-efficient method, but requires some teaching to increase the confidence of users. In conjunction, LH monitors and cervical mucus can give the best indication of fertility and ovulation timing.

Keywords: basal body temperature; cervical mucus; luteinizing hormone; ovulation.