Facts About FSH Levels and Pregnancy
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Can I still get pregnant with high FSH levels?
Because so many things have to go right at just the precise time for us to get pregnant, it’s a wonder any of us ever do. Getting news from your doctor that you have high levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) almost sounds like a good thing, but in reality, high levels of FSH significantly lower your chances of conception because FSH is found in women with a low ovarian reserve, meaning you have fewer eggs left that stand a chance of fertilization. Moreover, FSH measures the health and viability of those remaining eggs. The lower the number, the stronger and more fertile your eggs are. That’s why a test revealing that you have high FSH levels can make you feel even more hopeless.
So what is an FSH level, and can it be changed? This article addresses those questions and more.
What is FSH?
FSH is produced by our pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ that is part of the endocrine system. The pituitary itself is tiny, but its role is huge—it functions as the command center for every other gland in the endocrine system.
A woman’s reproductive system is an exquisitely complicated web of physiological processes. Each process is intricately connected, and each has to perform certain tasks at an exact time. In addition, hormone levels have to be within a certain range for fertilization to occur. An essential piece of these processes is the release of FSH.
What FSH does
Both men and women produce FSH. For men, the hormone stimulates testicular growth and sperm maturation. For women, FSH stimulates the ovaries. This stimulation generates follicle growth, causing the egg to mature during each menstrual cycle. A mature, ripened egg is receptive to the sperm and has the highest chance of being fertilized.
FSH levels fluctuate daily during a woman’s cycle, and they vary from cycle to cycle. Through the variations, a woman will still measure high or low pretty consistently.
Causes of high FSH levels
As a woman gets closer to menopause, her egg supply and egg health naturally diminish. About 10 years before the onset of menopause, FSH levels begin a slow rise. High FSH levels are a completely normal part of the aging process and entirely expected in postmenopausal women.
In younger women, there are other reasons for elevated FSH levels. Any abnormal reading, either high or low, can be caused by Graves’ disease (a form of hyperthyroidism), fragile X syndrome (a genetic disorder), or polycystic ovary syndrome (an endocrine-system disorder). In young women (those under the age of 35), high FSH levels may be a symptom of premature ovarian failure.
How to find out your FSH levels
Doctors normally perform a test called the Day 3 FSH on the third day of menstruation. Laboratory testing is performed as a simple blood test. At-home testing is not recommended, as it can often lead to false or misleading results.
If the test is performed repeatedly, keep in mind that your ovarian reserve is based on the highest number, regardless of subsequent tests that may show a lower number. Although there is no magic number, most medical professions consider any FSH level over 10 indicative of a low ovarian reserve.
Can the level be changed?
The short answer? Probably not. Some women are prescribed synthetic estrogen in an attempt to alter the level, and there are many promised FSH-lowering supplements and “cures” on the Internet, but no research has shown any of them to be effective in altering FSH levels. In fact, ingesting some of the nonregulated compounds currently on the market can create new health problems.
Keep in mind that even if additional estrogen lowers FSH levels, it does not necessarily guarantee an increased probability of conceiving, either naturally or via in vitro fertilization (IVF). A woman’s ovarian reserve shows her potential for conceiving with her own eggs; it is not a measurement of her overall fertility.
What might work? Weight control. A woman’s weight has a direct bearing on the regulation of hormones in her body, which will influence her overall fertility. A body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 is considered optimal for conception (though many women with differing BMIs have conceived both naturally and via IVF).
What’s on the horizon?
A newer test measuring AMH (anti-Mullerian hormone) can assess a woman’s fertility. This hormone has been studied extensively, but only until recently have doctors been able to order it as a blood test. AMH is produced by the preantral, or the small egg follicles in the ovary. The more preantral follicles there are, the higher the level of AMH in a woman’s blood. So, the AMH is a useful measurement to assess how many eggs are in the ovaries.
If the AMH level is low, the reserve of eggs remaining in the ovary is correspondingly low. A high AMH reading means there are many eggs, and this can help your practitioner avoid the risk of overly responding to fertility medications.
AMH has not replaced FSH tests, though. The basic difference? FSH levels vary constantly, and AMH is more static; it is useful as a means for looking at the quantity of viable eggs.
The bottom line
Remember, FSH levels are just one part of the reproductive picture. If your FSH levels are high, you might want to ask your doctor to take a more aggressive approach.
Keep in mind that women can and do conceive outside average parameters. If you receive the news that your FSH levels are elevated, it does not mean you cannot get pregnant; it means only that you may need some assistance or, as in many cases, just the right timing.
Anne Spollen lives happily as a Solo Mom to three kids and works as an author, a writer, and a college teacher.
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