If you’ve never heard of PCOS, you’re not alone. It stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and although you may never have heard the term before there is a pretty good chance someone you know has it. PCOS affects nearly one in ten women of childbearing age, making it one of the most common causes of female infertility in America.
Although this condition makes conceiving naturally very challenging, with fertility treatments and lifestyle changes women with PCOS can have children of their own. Here is everything you need to know about PCOS and the steps you can take to improve your odds of conceiving.
PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, it is a condition that occurs when a woman’s sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) are out of balance. This imbalance often promotes the growth of ovarian cysts (benign masses on the ovaries). It is a serious condition that can lead to complications with menstruation, fertility, appearance and heart health. It affects up to five million American women.
Most women begin showing signs of PCOS after their first menstrual cycle. The most common symptom is irregular periods but symptoms can also include the following:
PCOS is typically marked by a decrease in female sex hormones and increase in male hormones. This may cause some women to develop the following masculine characteristics:
There is no definitive reason as to why some women develop PCOS, but the condition appears to be linked to the following characteristics:
There is no PCOS specific test, but your doctor will perform a physical and pelvic exam to determine whether or not you have it.
Your doctor will likely order blood tests to analyze the following:
Since PCOS affects the levels of sex hormones in a woman’s body it affects fertility significantly. Most women diagnosed with PCOS are unable to conceive naturally for the following reasons:
Women with PCOS who do become pregnant have a heightened risk of miscarriage since their sex hormones are not functioning properly. Fertility treatments have been shown to be effective in helping women who suffer from PCOS become pregnant.
Although it is disheartening to find out you may be unable to conceive naturally, there is a silver lining. Since your body does not ovulate and release an egg regularly in your teens and twenties, you may end up with more eggs than normal in your thirties. These extra eggs can be used for fertility treatments and actually increase your chance of conception down the line.
If you have PCOS and want to become pregnant your doctor will likely recommend one of the following treatments:
Although fertility treatment is the most effective means to get pregnant with PCOS, there are some things you can do to help the process.
If you have PCOS and become pregnant your doctor will likely refer you to a doctor that specializes in high-risk pregnancies. Women with PCOS require extra monitoring during pregnancy due to the heightened risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, and premature delivery. Those who suffer from PCOS may also have higher risks of the following:
Although not all of these risks are associated with pregnancy, they are important to keep in mind if you have PCOS.
There is no cure for PCOS, but there are ways you can manage the symptoms and decrease your likelihood of complications. As mentioned above, a healthy diet and regular exercise are important for women with PCOS as it can lower blood glucose levels and promote regular periods.
If you are not planning on becoming pregnant birth control pills can be used to minimize symptoms. They can help eliminate acne, regulate periods and decrease male hormone levels. You may also be prescribed anti-androgens, a drug that decreases male hormone levels in your body. This can help with excess hair growth, and reduce acne as well. Additionally, diabetes medication may be prescribed to help control insulin levels.
It is possible that some women may require surgery. The procedure is called ovarian drilling and will destroy part of the ovary as a temporary solution to promote ovulation and reduce male hormone levels.
There is no way to prevent PCOS since it is largely based on genetics. However, diagnosing and treating PCOS as soon as possible is your best option in reducing complications. If you have irregular or nonexistent periods, it is important to visit your doctor to test for additional PCOS symptoms.
If you are overweight and have PCOS, losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reverse some of your symptoms. It is also very important for women with PCOS to avoid tobacco products.
A Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome diagnosis sounds scary and complicated, but it is entirely manageable with professional help. Talk to your doctor about how PCOS will affect your overall health and what you can do to prevent serious complications.