The sensitivity and specificity of a urinary pregnanediol-3-glucuronide (PdG) ratio algorithm to identify anovulatory cycles was studied prospectively in two independent populations of women. Urinary hormone data from the first group was used to develop the algorithm, and data from the second group was used for its validation. PdG ratios were calculated by a cycles method in which daily PdG concentrations indexed by creatinine (CR) from cycle day 11 onward were divided by a baseline PdG (average PdG/Cr concentration for cycle days 6-10). In the interval method, daily PdG/CR concentrations from day 1 onward were divided by baseline PdG (lowest 5-day average of PdG/CR values throughout the collection period). Evaluation of the first study population (n = 6) resulted in cycles with PdG ratios > or = 3 for > or = 3 consecutive days being classified as ovulatory; otherwise they were anovulatory. The sensitivity and specificity of the PdG ratio algorithm to identify anovulatory cycles in the second population were 75% and 89.5%, respectively, for all cycles (n = 88); 50% and 88.3% for first cycles (n = 40) using the cycles method; 75% and 92.2%, respectively, for all cycles (n = 89); and 50% and 94.1% for first cycles (n = 40) using the interval method. The "gold standard" for anovulation was weekly serum samples < or = 2 ng/ml progesterone. The sensitivity values for all cycles and for the first cycle using both methods were underestimated because of apparent misclassification of cycles using serum progesterone due to infrequent blood collection. Blood collection more than once a week would have greatly improved the sensitivity and modestly improved the specificity of the algorithm. The PdG ratio algorithm provides an efficient approach for screening urine samples collected in epidemiologic studies of reproductive health in women.