If your periods are irregular, you may not be ovulating. But a no LH surge on an ovulation test does not mean that you haven’t ovulated.
Ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) check for the luteinizing hormone. Known as “LH” for short, the luteinizing hormone is a powerful fertility predictor.
Although they may give you a negative result, there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Understanding the LH surge is essential if you’re trying to get pregnant. Also, tracking your hormones can help with natural family planning.
This blog will explain the science behind LH changes and help you understand how they affect your monthly cycle.
How does LH trigger ovulation?
Luteinizing hormone (LH) is a sex hormone involved in reproduction. It is produced in the pituitary gland.
- In women, LH plays two important roles.
- LH helps regulate your menstrual cycle.
LH activates the ovary to release a mature egg (ovulation) in your monthly cycle.
Fun fact: men also produce the luteinizing hormone. The hormone causes the testes to make testosterone in males, which is important for sperm production.
Your LH level stays about the same throughout your menstrual cycle — except when you are about to ovulate. This happens during your follicular phase, which begins the first day of your period and ends when you ovulate.
Let’s break down the timing of when LH rises next…
When LH hormone levels rise
Around 24–36 hours before you ovulate, LH levels spike. It’s called an “LH Surge.”
- This rapid rise in hormones affects your ovaries in a few ways.
- It causes the ovaries to push the follicles that are holding the eggs to change.
- Ovarian follicles start to swell.
- The outer follicular membrane begins to break down.
- The egg is released as part of the ovulation process.
In most women, these changes from the LH surge usually happen around 12-14 days before the next period. Still, every woman is different. And even your cycle can vary somewhat from month to month.
So, does no LH surge mean no ovulation?
As you see, when LH level surges, it’s a signal that your ovaries may release an egg soon.
But that raises another question: does no LH surge mean no ovulation?
Yes, you need a rise in LH to cause the follicle to rupture and release the egg.
An LH surge tells the body it’s time to release a mature ovum (egg).
So, what if you have a low LH surge?
If there is a surge albeit minimal from the baseline levels of LH, that is enough for your follicle to rupture and release the egg.
Studies have shown that an average LH surge is a 7.7-fold increase from the baseline. But a range of 2.5 to 14.8-fold increase from the baseline in LH levels can bring about ovulation.
You can have an otherwise normal monthly cycle (period) and not ovulate. And you may not even know it! Unless, of course, you are monitoring your hormone levels.
In that case, a follicular cyst develops because the ovarian follicle (sac) continues to grow without releasing an egg. Over time, the cyst usually goes away on its own.
What is a normal LH range?
To identify a true surge in LH, you have to watch your levels over a full cycle. It can be tricky, because it is possible for LH levels to rise more than once during the month. Here’s how.
Three main types of LH surge
Although every woman has a unique cycle, medical researchers have found that LH surges usually fall into one of three main patterns.
Single or “Spike” pattern: Approximately 41.9% of cycles fall into this pattern. In this scenario, the LH level peaks and then falls back to baseline.
Biphasic pattern: Interestingly, more women tend to have this type of LH surge (about 44.2%). In a biphasic LH surge, the hormone level rises and falls. But then, it goes up a second time before falling back to baseline. The two peaks may be equal, or one could be higher. Two LH surges do not mean that you will ovulate twice. You usually ovulate after the second LH surge.
Plateau pattern: Around 13.9% of cycles demonstrate a plateau pattern. In this type of surge, LH goes up and remains at a peak level for 2–3 days before dropping back to baseline. Some research suggests that a sustained peak over 2–3 days increases the chances of pregnancy.
Some women can also have multiple surges, meaning more than two peaks in a cycle. Still, this is rare.
Keep in mind that every person and each cycle is different — so levels can vary a lot. Tracking your hormone levels will give you a better idea of what’s happening in your body.
Now if you were to test your LH levels on a regular OPK, you may not get accurate results.
For most OPKs depend on your average threshold levels to test for LH. If you do not fall in this average range, then you may get false results.
To learn more about How to Read a Positive Ovulation Test click here.
What does a low LH surge mean?
Now that you understand what an LH surge is, and what normal levels are, let’s talk about low LH.
A low LH surge can happen when the body does not make or secrete enough of the hormone. Low LH levels are often related to one of the following conditions:
- Malnutrition (related to an eating disorder or obesity)
- Excessive stress or overexercising
- A medical condition affecting the pituitary gland
Can I have an LH surge and not ovulate?
Yes! You can have an LH surge without ovulating. It is called an anovulatory cycle, and it happens for different reasons.
Don’t worry; it’s fairly common in women during their reproductive years. You may not ovulate during one cycle, but then ovulate normally during the next menstrual cycle without any problem.
Without testing, you may not even know you didn’t release an egg (ovulate) that month. This is because you will still notice some of the usual signs that your body is about to ovulate.
For example, you might see egg white-like discharge during the middle of your cycle. It’s possible to have increased cervical mucus and not ovulate.
Yet, certain conditions cause anovulation to happen often. Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) have cycles without ovulating. In some cases, anovulation can lead to infertility or trouble conceiving.
Can I get pregnant without an LH surge?
As you know, you cannot ovulate without an LH surge. Without the rapid surge in hormone levels, the follicle won’t get the signal to release the mature egg. So, if you don’t ovulate, you obviously can’t get pregnant.
Your body needs the signaling by the rise in LH to release the egg. Without an LH surge, your ovary will not release a mature egg. So, fertilization cannot occur — which means that conception cannot occur either.
When you don’t have a spike in LH during your monthly cycle, it is unlikely that you are, or will become, pregnant.
However, a low LH surge can still trigger ovulation. Most OPKs fail to detect this low LH surge as they are based on average threshold values. Let’s understand how!
Can I get pregnant with a low LH surge?
Remember that there is a difference between a low surge and no surge. A low surge that is above the baseline levels could still result in ovulation and pregnancy.
So, an LH surge as low as it may be, can still cause the follicle to rupture and release an egg. Since OPKs are based on average threshold values, you will only get a positive result when you reach that threshold. Do not lose hope when you get a negative result on your OPK. It is possible that you may have had a low LH surge resulting in ovulation.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, the best time to have sex is about 3–5 days (the lifespan of sperm) before ovulation. Your fertile window starts 4 days before ovulation and lasts until a day after ovulation.
Interestingly, one study showed that most often the LH surge starts between midnight and 8:00 A.M. However, this is to be followed when you are testing your LH levels using an OPK.
Read more about the best time to take an ovulation test.
What can I do if I have no LH surge?
If you are trying to conceive (TTC), learning about what is normal for your body can help. Your monthly cycles and LH surge can be clues to when and if you’re ovulating. If you find that you do not have an LH surge, don’t panic!
Try using the Inito Fertility Monitor to track your fertile window and confirm ovulation. Inito measures your LH levels and gives you the actual values. This can help you understand your cycle better and know when you are probably going to ovulate.
A rise in progesterone metabolite-PdG helps confirm ovulation and that’s what Inito measures along with estrogen and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Use Inito to confirm ovulation and know that a small or large LH surge doesn’t really matter.
Once you have a clear picture of your cycle, you can consult your doctor to study the hormones. Once the cause is figured out, then you can balance your hormones with the help of lifestyle changes.
A healthy nutritious diet, regular exercise, mental relaxation, and good sleep can help bring your hormones back on track. And better yet, you can keep track of your levels using the Inito Fertility Monitor.
- LH hormone helps regulate your menstrual cycle and activates the ovary to release a mature egg (ovulation).
- Every woman and every cycle is different; some may have two or more LH surges each month.
- If your LH levels do not rise from the baseline, then you won’t ovulate that cycle.
- If you do not ovulate, you cannot get pregnant.
- Women who do not have an LH surge should talk with a doctor to rule out any serious problems.