Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is a common disorder that can contribute to infertility and long-term health risks. If you think you may be dealing with symptoms of the disorder, you're certainly not alone. In fact, as many as 12% of women of reproductive age in the U.S. live with PCOS.
If you have PCOS, you may have many questions about the condition, its treatment, and what it might mean for your chances of getting pregnant. In this article, we'll answer some common questions about PCOS.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS is a multi-system disorder affecting many women of reproductive age. The cause of the disorder is unknown, but people with PCOS commonly exhibit imbalances in certain reproductive hormones, such as androgens. As the name implies, people with PCOS often have large numbers of follicles which are the small egg-containing cysts found in the ovaries. During a normal menstrual cycle, your ovaries mature and release an egg every month. Due to the effects of PCOS, your ovaries may be unable to make or release an egg regularly. This can result in infertility issues.
What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?
PCOS symptoms vary between individuals and can range from mild to severe. Many people may experience irregular periods, erratic ovulation, infertility, oily skin, extra hair on the face or body, hair loss on the scalp, and weight gain. More recently, PCOS has been linked with depression or mood disorders. Some people with PCOS are overweight, although people who are not overweight can have it also. Being overweight can make the signs and symptoms of PCOS worse.
A common problem in people with PCOS is insulin resistance (more on this below). People with insulin resistance can often find darkening of the skin along creased areas like the groin or neck can occur, as well as the development of skin tags.
Who is at Risk for PCOS?
The condition affects women of all ethnicities and can develop at any time during reproductive years or any time after puberty. The precise cause of PCOS is unknown. However, you may be at higher risk if you have a family history of the disorder.
As noted above, people with PCOS often have insulin resistance. People with insulin resistance can make insulin, but their cells don't respond to insulin as they should. As a result, insulin levels in the body may increase. This can cause the ovaries to produce higher levels of a group of hormones known as androgens which causes some of the symptoms of PCOS like unwanted hair growth.
In addition to PCOS, other factors can contribute to insulin resistance such as being overweight, having an unhealthy diet, or a family history of diabetes. These people can see a worsening of their symptoms of PCOS. It's important to take action if you have high insulin or blood sugar levels since this may increase your risk of developing diabetes.
How Is PCOS Diagnosed?
Since PCOS is a syndrome with many different signs and symptoms, not all experts agree on the criteria to diagnose PCOS. The three most commonly used criteria are seen here.
As you can see, some criteria rely on blood tests, others rely on ultrasound, and still, others emphasize signs and symptoms. Therefore, your doctor may perform an exam and discuss your medical history to diagnose PCOS. They may perform a pelvic ultrasound to examine your ovaries and do blood tests to determine your hormone levels. These exams and tests will help rule out any other possible causes of your symptoms.
How Is PCOS Treated?
There is no total cure for PCOS. But fortunately, you can take steps to manage or improve your symptoms. Getting adequate exercise, managing your weight, and eating a healthy diet can all help. You may also be able to take medication to lessen physical symptoms, like hair growth and acne. Making lifestyle changes can lower your long-term risks like type 2 diabetes.
It's not easy to hear that you may have PCOS, but you can talk to your doctor about how to lessen your symptoms. Some simple lifestyle changes may improve things.
Can You Get Pregnant if You Have PCOS?
It's possible to get pregnant if you have PCOS. While PCOS can cause infertility struggles, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of pregnancy.
Having irregular ovulation will make it harder to track the fertile phase of your menstrual cycle. Even so, you could still be able to get pregnant naturally. If this doesn't happen, there are fertility treatment options available.
Can Fertility Treatments Help You Get Pregnant With PCOS?
Absolutely! If you're having trouble getting pregnant, one possible option is in vitro fertilization (IVF). During this advanced fertility treatment, a doctor extracts your eggs, fertilizes them in a laboratory with collected sperm, and transfers the fertilized egg into your uterus. IVF bypasses the fallopian tubes, enabling a fertilized egg to be placed directly into your uterus, where it can implant. IVF can be an effective choice for many people, including those with PCOS, endometriosis, or damaged fallopian tubes.
However, many patients don't require IVF to get pregnant.
Reducing insulin resistance by lifestyle changes or medication can often result in more regular ovulation and pregnancy. Another alternative is ovulation induction with intercourse or intrauterine insemination (IUI). For this procedure, you take fertility drugs to induce ovulation before having intercourse or undergoing artificial insemination so that your eggs can become fertilized.
Does Having PCOS Increase Your Risk of Pregnancy Complications?
If you have PCOS, there can be some increased risk of certain complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia during pregnancy. However, this does not always happen, and you can reduce your risks by maintaining a healthy weight and making sure your blood sugar levels are normal before trying to become pregnant.
No matter your situation, the team of caring professionals is here to support you on your fertility journey. We would be glad to answer any questions you may have about PCOS, infertility, and fertility treatment options. Explore our website or schedule a consultation with our experts today if you'd like more information.