So can PCOS cause infertility? What is PCOS anyway? Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is often associated with women in their teens and 20s but can happen at any time after puberty. Often, the symptoms are simply put down to ‘women’s problems’ or aren’t investigated unless they are causing fertility issues.
What is PCOS?
Between 5-10% of all women are living with PCOS at any time. It is caused by an imbalance of hormones. These fluctuating hormone levels can cause small cysts to develop on the ovaries and often cause women to experience an irregular menstrual cycle. These hormones can be picked up by a testosterone blood test or other medical tests.
Symptoms of PCOS?
There are many issues that can be caused by PCOS. Some people may have one or two, other unlucky people might experience them all. The main symptoms include:
- Irregular cycles that can be heavier and more frequent or absent altogether
- Weight gain
- Excess hair on the face and body
- Insulin resistance
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PCOS and Infertility
PCOS might make it more difficult to get pregnant because women with PCOS also have an underproduction of estrogen (“female” hormones) and an overproduction of androgens (“male” hormones). This often causes small cysts on the surface of the ovaries.
These hormonal imbalances cause women with PCOS to have irregular menstrual cycles because they don’t ovulate or ovulate only sometimes. So yes, women with PCOS are more likely to have trouble conceiving than other women.
The good news is however, most women who have PCOS can become pregnant, it often takes longer to get pregnant and they are more likely to need fertility treatment than women without PCOS.
When to seek treatment
If you suspect you PCOS, at any age, you should consult your GP or OBGYN. Even though you might be living with the symptoms relatively well, PCOS has been shown to heighten the risk for other conditions such as depression, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes.
Once you’ve been diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options to lessen the symptoms. These depend very much on the severity of the symptoms and the cause.
Change in lifestyle
If you are very overweight, losing weight can help to balance hormone levels and re-establish regular ovulation. Insulin resistance can be lowered with a specialist diet, especially one that avoids sugars and carbohydrates.
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Typically, women under 45 are prescribed with birth control pills, which regulate hormone levels and ovulation.
Anti-androgen medications and antidiabetic medications are sometimes prescribed to try and regulate hormones and blood sugar levels.
What can you do?
Similarly to conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS is a hugely undiagnosed female condition. In some cases, you have to really advocate for yourself and insist that your doctor gives you the relevant tests.
In terms of managing the condition, there are a lot of things you can do for yourself that can lessen the symptoms or even stop them altogether. These include losing weight and maintaining it through diet and exercise. Don’t be too disappointed if you find it difficult to lose weight, a symptom of PCOS is weight gain that is particularly hard to lose.
Diet is also crucial in lowering insulin resistance symptoms. Many people follow a diet similar to those people living with diabetes.
PCOS can develop at any age after puberty, so don’t discount it entirely if you are experiencing any of the main symptoms. And can PCOS cause infertility? Yes. These aren’t things that you have to just live with. If you cannot find a supportive doctor, then find someone who will perform the necessary tests. Once you have a definitive answer, you can then set about making changes that can greatly improve your quality of life.