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PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is a condition caused by an imbalance of female sex hormones that results in a decreased ability for the ovaries to release mature eggs. PCOS affects between 5% and 10% of the population. The eggs of a woman with PCOS tend to stay in the ovary and can form cysts, rather than being released into the fallopian tubes. PCOS is more frequent in women who are overweight, have diabetes, or have a family history of PCOS.

What is it like to have PCOS?

PCOS is a complicated disorder that affects women differently. Its wide range of symptoms can span emotions, bodily pain, physical appearance, and fertility, which can make it tough to diagnose. Some of most common symptoms that women with PCOS may experience are irregular periods, excess body and facial hair, mood swings, thinning of head hair, trouble conceiving, abnormal bleeding from the uterus, weight gain, acne, and darkening patches of skin. Some evidence suggests that PCOS symptoms worsen over time if left untreated, so catching it early is important. An estimated five million US women are affected by PCOS.

How does PCOS affect fertility?

PCOS affects fertility when hormone imbalances prevent the ovaries from releasing mature eggs during ovulation. Instead, these eggs build up inside the ovaries and form small cysts, which can further hamper fertility. An excess of male hormones, called androgens, can also prevent ovulation in women with PCOS.

How can I treat PCOS?

Although PCOS can inhibit a woman’s ability to get pregnant, most people who are diagnosed are eventually able to conceive. There are several possible treatments for PCOS, including:

  • Losing weight: Losing just 5-10% of your body weight can significantly correct the hormonal imbalances that are preventing you from getting pregnant. This means a 150 lb. woman need only lose about 7 pounds to start seeing a significant boost in her fertility.
  • Glucophage: Glucophage is a drug for diabetics that has been proven to help make periods more regular and encourage healthy weight loss in women with PCOS. Because PCOS creates insulin resistance, treating the underlying insulin imbalance with Glucophage can be highly effective.
  • Clomid: A fertility drug that helps women produce and release more eggs. It's one of the most commonly prescribed fertility medications.
  • Diet changes: Many women who conceive naturally with PCOS swear by healthy diets, including eating gluten-free, limiting added sugar, eliminating processed foods, reducing the consumption of grains, balancing blood sugar with multiple small meals throughout the day, and increasing fiber.
  • Laparoscopic ovarian drilling: This is a surgical procedure during which a doctor drills small holes into an ovary using a laser, effectively creating a path for an egg to be released each ovulation cycle.

You may wish to try adjusting your diet and losing body weight before embarking on any assisted fertility course involving medications or surgical procedures. Always consult your doctor before pursuing any treatment option. Remember that PCOS is just a bump in the road for most women, not a dead end.

Read more
  • "Abnormal Uterine Bleeding." ASRM. American Society for Reproductive Medicine, n.d. Web.
  • Dr. Walter Willett. "Nurses' Health Study II." National Institutes of Health. United States, 1989-. Web.
  • Kort JD, Winget C, Kim SH, Lathi RB. "A retrospective cohort study to evaluate the impact of meaningful weight loss on fertility outcomes in an overweight population with infertility." Fertility & Sterility. 101(5):1400-3. Web. 5/14/2015.
  • "Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)." American Diabetes Association. American Diabetes Association, 7/2/2014. Web.
  • Li TC, Saravelos H, Chow MS, Chisabingo R, Cooke ID. "Factors affecting the outcome of laparoscopic ovarian drilling for polycystic ovarian syndrome in women with anovulatory infertility." British Journal of Obstetrics. 105:3. pg 338-44. Web. Mar-98.
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