Many women find out that they have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) when they try to get pregnant and are unsuccessful. Receiving the diagnosis brings up many questions regarding fertility. Will you ever be able to have children? Is there anything you can do to improve your fertility? Fortunately, the answer to both of these questions is "Yes!" for most women. Find out what PCOS is, how it affects your fertility and how to improve your reproductive health below.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome results from an imbalance of the hormones progesterone, estrogen and androgen. Researchers have not been able to pinpoint an exact cause for this condition, but they think it's a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors, such as diet. PCOS affects up to 10 percent of adult women, disrupting the ovulation cycle and rendering many women infertile.
How is the Condition Diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose women with PCOS by looking at the following symptoms:
- Does the patient experience irregular periods?
- Are excess androgens present (noticeable by excess acne or hair growth)?
- Does the patient have polycystic ovaries as seen via a vaginal ultrasound?
Patients must meet two of the three conditions before being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome.
How Are Women Tested for PCOS?
Testing for polycystic ovaries is a simple process. The doctor first gathers your medical history, including a history of your menstrual cycle to determine if your periods are irregular. If they are, the physician will order labs to have your blood drawn and tested to check your hormone levels. Finally, you may need to undergo a vaginal ultrasound to determine the size and severity of the cysts on your ovaries.
3 Ways PCOS Affects Fertility
Because PCOS disrupts the ovulation cycle, it has profound effects on fertility. Here are three ways your reproductive cycle is affected:
1. PCOS Causes Irregular Periods
Women with PCOs may only have 6-8 periods a year or fewer. Without the benefit of predictable monthly cycles, women have no idea when or if ovulation occurs. This makes pregnancy planning difficult.
2. PCOS Sufferers May Not Ovulate At All
Some women who suffer from PCOS rarely ovulate or never ovulate at all. This anovulation is a result of extra insulin in the body, which causes hormonal imbalances. Follicles begin producing more of the male hormone testosterone than the female hormone estrogen. Other glands in the body also start producing testosterone. The elevated levels of testosterone cause ovulation to be more infrequent or cease altogether.
Even when women with PCOS do ovulate, eggs often fail to mature or implant because the ovulation cycle is compromised.
3. Women with PCOS May Not Be Able to Sustain a Pregnancy
It's not impossible to become pregnant when you have PCOS, but those who suffer from this condition experience an increased risk of miscarriage. Even if an egg is released, fertilized and implanted, the endometrium may not be able to sustain the fertilized egg.
What Can PCOS Sufferers Do to Improve Fertility?
Research shows that the best way for women with PCOS to improve fertility is by making lifestyle changes. Limiting carbohydrates, for instance, helps lower insulin resistance. Although drugs such as Metformin can do the same thing, reducing the intake of carbohydrates works well for many people. Exercise also helps reduce insulin resistance and helps women with PCOS maintain a healthy weight.
Prescriptions are available to help women improve their fertility, too. Clomid helps 75 percent of patients who do not ovulate, and 30 to 40 percent of those women are able to get pregnant. Be aware that the drug also increases the chances of giving birth to multiples, with twins being the most common. Metformin may be given in combination with Clomid to jump-start ovulation.
Women who do not become pregnant with a regimen of Clomid and Metformin within six months are encouraged to explore other reproductive options such as IVF. If you feel that IVF may be right for you, talk to a doctor about different types of IVF medications for sale.