How Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Affects Your Fertility
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a problematic condition affecting between 8% and 10% of all women in their reproductive age. It is the “most common type of female endocrine (hormone) disorder.”
And one of its biggest issues? Infertility. In fact, most women with PCOS end up using some sort of intervention or treatment to conceive.
We are going to take a deep dive into understanding PCOS and how it affects fertility and chances of conception. It will provide helpful information for those who:
- Know they have PCOS and want to know how it could affect their fertility someday
- Know they have PCOS and want to become pregnant now
- Think they may have PCOS and want to become pregnant now
- Have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive and want to know the possible reasons for the unexplained infertility
The main idea this article should bring you is hope. Just because you have polycystic ovary syndrome does not mean you will never be able to conceive… you just may need a little extra help.
What Is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
The best way to understand how PCOS can cause infertility is to really comprehend what this syndrome does to the body. Here are some easy-to-understand bullet points so you can grasp exactly what this condition is:
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- PCOS is a hormonal condition thought to be caused by genetics (though the exact cause is still not entirely known or understood)
- This lack of hormonal balance causes an excess of androgens (male hormones) and some insulin resistance
- In response to the overproduction of androgens, the body often has irregular ovulation or no ovulation at all
- Many times there will be multiple cysts (between 2 and 9 mm) in the ovaries
- Often, women with PCOS will not have normal periods with any sort of predictable pattern
Outside of period and ovulation symptoms, some women with polycystic ovary syndrome may experience weight gain, acne, facial hair, skin tags, darkened skin, depression, sleep apnea, and male-patterned baldness.
But the ovulatory/menstrual issues are what I want to hone in on. These are the reasons behind the fertility issues.
The PCOS/Infertility Connection
Before I begin, realize that polycystic ovary syndrome does not automatically equal infertility. It is absolutely possible that you could get pregnant on your own.
Trouble conceiving is, however, a common side effect of the syndrome – whether that is delayed conception or difficulty conceiving at all without medical intervention (like IVF).
Because women with PCOS have irregular ovulation, or none at all, the chances of having an egg successfully meet with sperm goes way down. This is one of the main reasons that the correlation between PCOS and infertility is so high.
On top of all of this, the endometrium (AKA the uterus’s lining) “may not be sufficiently prepared to sustain pregnancy.”
Here is where the hope steps in: just because getting pregnant is harder for women with PCOS does not mean it is impossible by any means.
There are quite a few fertility treatment options and lifestyle changes that can up the chance of conception.
Possible Fertility Treatments For PCOS
Since infertility is so frequently an issue for women with polycystic ovary syndrome, there is a long list of common medications and procedures to function as fertility treatments.
While there are many options, some of the most common include:
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- Clomiphene, commonly referred to as Clomid: A drug that can bring about ovulation (this treatment frequently ends with twins or triplets). Around 80% of women will ovulate “within the first three months of starting clomiphene treatment. Of these women, 30 to 40 percent get pregnant by their third treatment cycle.”
- Metformin: A diabetes drug that just so happens to regulate ovulation. Sometimes it is added to Clomiphene.
- Letrozole: Helps create hormones that help ovulation. “A recent large study of women with PCOS found that Letrozole was more effective than clomiphene in regulating ovulation and resulted in more births.”
- Gonadotropins: Hormones given by injection that bring about ovulation. Over half of the women on this drug will begin to ovulate and around 60% of those women will become pregnant.
- Ovarian drilling: A last-resort procedure that is done only one time, in which a small area of your ovary is actually destroyed. Around a half of women who tried this option became pregnant within the year.
- In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): Doctors extract your egg and your partner’s sperm and join them together in a laboratory dish before transferring the embryo to your uterus.
Possible Lifestyle Changes For PCOS
If you would prefer to try lifestyle changes before diving into fertility treatments, or if you would like to add them to your fertility treatments, there are choices you can make to scientifically improve your odds of conception with PCOS.
- Lose Weight: Studies have shown that managing your weight “may improve ovulatory function and pregnancy.” It is important to understand that women with PCOS tend to struggle with their weight. So reaching out to a nutritionist and trainer may be extremely helpful.
- Eat A Low-Glycemic Diet: There is a connection between PCOS and improper insulin/blood sugar levels. One helpful step is to limit your sugar intake. Not only will this help your PCOS, it can also help balance your hormones in general.
- Up Vitamin D: Being deficient in vitamin D is a common occurrence in women with PCOS. Boosting your vitamin D levels (under the supervision of a medical professional, since vitamin D is not a water-soluble vitamin) can be a great additional help for those who suffer with symptoms PCOS
If You Have PCOS And Want To Get Pregnant…
The first thing you need to do is visit your doctor. If you have never been officially diagnosed with PCOS, that is the first place to start.
If you have been diagnosed, talk to your doctor about your fertility treatment options. Perhaps you will simply want to start by losing weight and taking hormone-boosting supplements. Perhaps you want to try Clomid.
No matter what avenue you choose - a plan of action can be made with your doctor. Hope is available for those with polycystic ovary syndrome.