What is PCOS?
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects your ovaries. Your ovaries make and release an egg each month, which causes your menstrual cycle. An imbalance in hormone levels disturbs the development of the egg in your ovaries. If you have PCOS, your ovary may not release the egg, or ovulate.
PCOS results in the development of fluid-filled sacs, called cysts, in the ovary. It causes irregular menstrual periods and may lead to infertility as the ovary can’t release eggs easily. This is why getting pregnant with PCOS can be difficult. But early diagnosis and treatment can reverse PCOS.
About 5% to 13% of women of reproductive age are diagnosed with PCOS.
Causes of PCOS
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. Research suggests that increased levels of male hormones, called androgens, and insulin can cause PCOS.
PCOS can also occur due to the following underlying conditions:
Symptoms of PCOS
Some other symptoms of PCOS include:
- Missed or irregular menstrual periods
- Cysts in ovaries
- Insulin resistance, causing high levels of blood sugar and insulin
- Hirsutism, or hair on the face or body
- Oily skin or acne on the face and body
- Hair loss and thinning of hair
- Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
- Darkening of skin in your neck creases, near your groin, or under your breasts
- Skin tags or small bits of skin growth on your armpits, neck, or eyelids
Diagnosis of PCOS
If you think you have symptoms of PCOS, visit your doctor immediately. Diagnosing PCOS early can help you treat the underlying condition before the symptoms worsen. This can decrease the risk of complications if you’re planning a pregnancy.
Your doctor will take a blood test to check your hormone levels and scan your ovaries for cysts using ultrasound.
Getting pregnant with PCOS
If you’re diagnosed with PCOS, it doesn’t mean you can't get pregnant. Most women with PCOS become pregnant. But they may take longer than women without PCOS.
The following lifestyle changes can help you naturally increase your chances of getting pregnant with PCOS:
PCOS-related infertility and its treatment
Sometimes, high levels of male hormones can interfere with egg production in your ovaries, causing PCOS-related infertility. If your egg isn’t released by the ovary, you won’t be able to get pregnant.
Infertility due to PCOS is treatable. You can consult with your doctor to increase your chances of pregnancy. They may order fertility tests and prescribe the following fertility medications to help you ovulate:
- Contraceptive (birth control) medication to regulate menstrual periods
- Clomiphene citrate to induce ovulation
- Aromatase inhibitors like letrozole to encourage ovulation
- Metformin to relieve PCOS symptoms associated with diabetes
If medications don't help, your doctor may suggest surgery to remove the male hormone-producing tissue in your ovaries. This procedure is called laparoscopic ovarian drilling.
Injecting reproductive hormones into your uterus can also help improve fertility. Your doctor may also recommend in vitro fertilization to increase your chances of pregnancy.
Complications during pregnancy
If you have severe PCOS symptoms, you may experience the following complications during pregnancy:
- Premature birth
- Preeclampsia or high blood pressure
- Gestational diabetes
- Cesarean section
If you have PCOS and are pregnant, consult your doctor about the risk of these complications. Continuously monitoring your symptoms and being extra careful during your pregnancy can help you avoid any risks.
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