29 Aug Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Infertility
5-10% of U.S. women of childbearing age have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and often find out when they are trying to have a baby.²
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of infertility of women in the United States. It affects all races and ethnicities. The good news is that it’s also a very treatable condition.
PCOS, at its core, is a hormonal imbalance. The imbalance typically affects the ovaries and the adrenal glands. Women with PCOS often have higher than normal levels of androgen, a male hormone that all women have. High levels of androgen stops ovulation (when an egg is released from the ovary) so achieving pregnancy is challenging, often leading to infertility.
What are the Symptoms and Risks of PCOS?
Symptoms of PCOS are: missed or irregular periods, excess hair on undesirable parts of the body, thinning of hair on the head, acne, and a characteristic darkening of the folds of the skin. Women often suffer from pelvic pain and cysts on the ovaries as well.¹
Usually just 2 or 3 of these symptoms will meet a diagnosis for PCOS. Major risk factors for PCOS are:
- family history of PCOS
- low physical activity
- unhealthy diet
- insulin resistance or type 2 Diabetes.¹
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) Treatment Options
Women with PCOS are often insulin resistant, which can develop into type 2 diabetes later in life. Insulin resistance is when the body makes insulin (to convert food into energy), but doesn’t use the insulin effectively, leading to high blood sugars and metabolic issues like weight gain. Read more about minimizing your risk of diabetes.
Regular exercise helps the body utilize insulin effectively, regulate metabolism, and balance your hormones. These are important parts of managing PCOS. If you are overweight, losing weight is one of the best ways to positively impact PCOS. Even a small weight loss can help regulate your monthly period, which will improve your chances of becoming pregnant.
A personalized treatment plan may also include medication such as birth control to regulate periods (if you’re not trying to get pregnant), anti-androgen to slow hair growth on undesirable parts of the body, and oral diabetes medication to regulate blood sugar. If you are trying to get pregnant, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Clomid (to help the ovary release eggs), or ovarian surgery may be recommended.
It’s important to understand that PCOS can affect women beyond their childbearing years. It puts women at risk for: type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, stroke, depression, and anxiety.¹ Read on for more information on chronic disease management.
Many women think symptoms in separate areas of the body are unrelated, but later find that they are part of the total clinical picture of PCOS, affecting their fertility. By reaching out to your provider, you can develop a personalized treatment plan for PCOS. You’ll need to make lifestyle changes as well, to optimize your health, improve your chances of getting pregnant, and prevent the development of other more serious conditions in the future.
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC). March 2020. PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and diabetes. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/pcos.html#:~:text=PCOS%20is%20one%20of%20the,beyond%20the%20child%2Dbearing%20years.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. February 2021. Polycystic ovarian syndrome. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome#10