Living with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and getting pregnant is a dual concern for many women of childbearing age. PCOS with its wide range of symptoms is the most common hormonal disturbance of premenopausal women and a leading cause of infertility. Life with PCOS can be complex without some medical guidance. If you have any of the following symptoms of PCOS, make an appointment to get checked out.
- Irregular periods or no periods at all
- Inability to get pregnant or recurrent miscarriage
- High levels of androgen “male” hormones
- PMS and pelvic pain
- Ovarian cysts
- Acne, oily skin
- Balding or thinning hair
- Hirsutism: excessive hair growth in areas on the face, neck, chest, stomach, back, hands, feet
- Obesity or weight gain – especially around the waist
- Insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes
- Skin tags
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
Can women with PCOS conceive?
Living with PCOS and getting pregnant is challenging because your body doesn’t produce the hormones necessary for regular ovulation. Without these hormones, the egg inside the ovary does not fully mature. The follicle that holds the egg still grows and fills with fluid. However, there is no mature egg to rupture it, so it remains as a cyst.
The cysts with PCOS produce higher than normal amounts of androgens (male sex hormones), which block ovulation. Because no mature egg is released, ovulation fails to occur and the hormone progesterone is not made. This results in an irregular or absent menstrual cycle.
Fertility treatments for PCOS
If you have PCOS and getting pregnant is your ultimate dream, there are some treatments that may help you bring home a baby.
- Fertility medications. Fertility drugs may help symptoms of PCOS in an attempt to temporarily assist with ovulation. The traditional fertility agents Clomid, Serophene and various preparations of injectable gonadotropins create a “super”-physiologic situation where an ‘extra push’ is given for follicular development. One disadvantage with having PCOS and getting pregnant with fertility drugs is that these drugs tend to work in only one cycle. A developing follicle may take up to three cycles to grow and mature. This means the egg has gone through early growth stages in an abnormal hormonal environment, which may result in a poor quality egg.
- Metformin. Fertility drugs for PCOS are often taken in combination with metformin. Metformin, also known as Glucophage, helps to lower insulin levels.
- IVF. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is another great option for getting pregnant with PCOS. While IVF can be an expensive and time-consuming process, many women with PCOS have had great success with IVF, getting pregnant and bringing home healthy babies.
- Ovarian drilling. Your doctor may have talked to you about a minimally-invasive surgery to induce ovulation. This type of laparoscopic surgery is referred to as “ovarian drilling” and involves puncturing the ovary with a small needle that carries an electric current. This procedure destroys a small portion of the ovary. Although ovarian drilling can help lower male hormone levels and induce ovulation, the effects of the procedure may only last for a few months. The procedure also carries the risk of developing scar tissue between the fallopian tubes and ovary and other problems that can hinder your ability to get pregnant.
- Natural PCOS fertility aids. There are steps you can take to naturally bring about ovulation. By maintaining a healthy weight and eating fewer processed foods or foods without added sugar, you can improve your body’s use of insulin and balance your hormone levels. Some women report complete relief of PCOS symptoms after changing their diet and exercise habits. Weight loss can help to regulate your cycle, improve the frequency of ovulation, lower androgen levels and thereby improve your fertility.
If you do become pregnant with PCOS, you may wonder how the syndrome will affect your pregnancy. Having PCOS and getting pregnant does increase the risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, or premature delivery. Still, in general, women with PCOS do experience healthy pregnancies.
If you have PCOS and getting pregnant is your ultimate goal, talk to your doctor soon. Your doctor will help you find the most effective treatment options, including fertility-boosting medications and high-tech modalities, if necessary, to help you get pregnant and start a family.
- Womenshealth.gov: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Frequently Asked Questions.
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine: Patient’s Fact Sheet: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine: Patient’s Fact Sheet: Ovarian Drilling for Infertility.
- IntegraMed: Learn about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCO or PCOS) from a leading specialist.
- American Pregnancy Association: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
- RESOLVE: PCOS: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.