Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects many women of reproductive age. It is a complex condition that can cause a range of symptoms, including irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and infertility. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, you may be wondering what your treatment options are and how it will impact your fertility. In this article, we will provide insights into managing PCOS and its impact on fertility.
What is PCOS?
PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it is known to be related to hormone imbalances. With PCOS, your body may have high amounts of two hormones: androgen and insulin. These hormonal issues can cause changes in your body’s ability to release an egg (ovulate) and can lead to irregular periods, ovarian cysts, trouble getting pregnant, and other symptoms.
Symptoms of PCOS
PCOS symptoms can vary from person to person, but some of the most common symptoms include:
- Irregular periods
- Polycystic ovaries, AKA ovarian cysts
- Infertility (trouble getting pregnant)
- Excess hair on your face, chest, belly, or upper thighs (sometimes called hirsutism)
- Severe acne or oily skin
- Dark skin patches
Diagnosis and Treatment
There is no special test for PCOS. If you’re worried you may have PCOS, a doctor or nurse can help you figure out if that’s what’s going on. The diagnosis of PCOS is usually made based on a combination of symptoms, a physical exam, and blood tests to check hormone levels. There is no cure for PCOS, but there are treatments available to manage the symptoms. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, can trigger body changes that facilitate conception in women with PCOS. Your health care provider may recommend that you try weight loss and other lifestyle changes before trying any medications to see if fertility returns and pregnancy occurs naturally. Research shows that lifestyle changes can help restore ovulation and improve pregnancy rates among women with PCOS. If lifestyle changes alone do not work, there are several medications that can help with ovulation and conception. These include:
- Metformin: This medication is a reasonable first-line treatment option for non-obese women.
- Clomiphene citrate: This medication is often used as a first-line treatment for women with PCOS who are trying to conceive.
- Letrozole: This medication is an alternative to clomiphene citrate and may be more effective in some women.
- Gonadotropins: These medications are injectable hormones that stimulate ovulation.
Fertility Treatment Options
In most cases, fertility problems in women with PCOS result from the absence of ovulation (anovulation), but anovulation may not be the only reason for these problems. Before beginning treatment for infertility possibly related to PCOS, be sure that your health care provider rules out other causes. If you have PCOS-related infertility, your health care provider may recommend fertility treatments such as:
- Ovulation induction: This involves taking medications to stimulate ovulation.
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI): This involves placing sperm directly into the uterus during ovulation.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF): This involves fertilizing eggs with sperm in a laboratory and then transferring the resulting embryos to the uterus.
Although it is difficult to give statistics as cases vary so much and different treatments have different success rates, most women with PCOS will be able to have a baby with fertility treatment. For women who are under 35, this is even more likely.
PCOS is a complex condition that can cause a range of symptoms, including irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and infertility. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, it is important to work with your health care provider to manage your symptoms and explore your fertility treatment options. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, can trigger body changes that facilitate conception in women with PCOS. If lifestyle changes alone do not work, there are several medications that can help with ovulation and conception. Fertility treatments such as ovulation induction, IUI, and IVF may also be recommended. With the right treatment, most women with PCOS will be able to have a baby.