PCOS And Infertility: What You Need to Know

Young man and woman sitting at desk with fertility doctor discussing PCOS.

PCOS And Infertility: What You Need to Know

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a medical issue that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. Women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance and metabolism challenges that may affect their overall health . PCOS is also a common and treatable cause of infertility.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition that can affect the ability of women of childbearing age to conceive. Typically, women with polycystic ovary syndrome struggle with infrequent or lack of ovulation and may have evidence of increased androgen sex hormones (like excessive or male-pattern hair growth and acne). However, some women will have fewer outward signs of the syndrome. PCOS can cause missed or irregular menstrual periods, resulting in ovulatory dysfunction and thus difficulty getting pregnant.

What is the Cause of PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. Many experts think that several factors play a role — including high levels of androgens, dysfunction in the insulin control system, and genetics. While there is no cure for PCOS, lifestyle changes and medications can help patients manage symptoms. A variety of fertility treatments such as ovulation induction medications can help women with PCOS conceive.

What are the Symptoms of PCOS?

PCOS affects approximately 5 to 10 percent of the population and is most prevalent in Hispanics and African Americans. Recent studies also suggest that there is a rising rate in women of Asian descent.

Symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome include irregular menstrual periods, weight gain, excessive hair growth, acne, and other health concerns like diabetes and high cholesterol.

These symptoms can often lead to anxiety and depression. Women experiencing any number of these symptoms should see their OB/GYN for further evaluation. If fertility is specifically a concern, a fertility specialist (called a reproductive endocrinologist) is recommended.

How to Diagnose PCOS?

PCOS presents differently in everyone. To reach a diagnosis of PCOS, physicians must identify two of the following three criteria:

  • Visible evidence of increased androgens, such as increased hair growth and/or acne, or elevated androgen levels with blood tests
  • Infrequent menstrual cycles (≤ 8 per year) or evidence of anovulation (lack of ovulation)
  • Ultrasound evidence of “polycystic ovaries” (increased number of follicles in the ovary and/or high ovarian volume).

What are the Options for PCOS Treatment?

Treatment for PCOS is individualized, depending on a patient’s goals and symptoms.

If a woman is not trying to become pregnant in the immediate future, often birth control pills or cyclic progesterone are prescribed to help reduce the impact of increased androgens (acne and hair growth) and restore a normal menstrual pattern, which is important to reduce the risks associated with the build-up of menstrual lining without a regular bleed.

For those who hope to become pregnant, oral ovulation induction with medications such as clomiphene citrate or letrozole is often effective. If these treatment options do not result in a successful pregnancy, a physician may recommend more advanced reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

For women looking to manage long-term complications of PCOS, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine is essential. They should also have regular screening for diabetes and cholesterol as recommended by their primary care provider.

At Fertility Specialists Medical Group (FSMG), we offer a variety of one-on-one fertility consultations and new patient appointments. We believe everyone should understand their reproductive health and family building options from the very start.

You’re unique.
Your fertility plan should be too.