Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal disorder that affects up to 1 in 8 women of reproductive age. It causes symptoms that range from irregular menstrual cycles to excessive hair growth — and one of the most devastating for many women is its impact on fertility.
Our team at OB-GYN Associates of Marietta specializes in gynecology and fertility, and we’ve worked with countless women to navigate PCOS and manage their symptoms. September is PCOS Awareness Month, and this year, we’re taking a closer look at the connection between PCOS and infertility.
PCOS develops with reproductive hormone imbalance. It affects your ovaries, often enlarging them and contributing to the growth of fluid-filled sacs called cysts.
While these cysts usually aren’t harmful by themselves, the hormonal imbalance can disrupt your menstrual cycle and cause a number of symptoms, such as:
- Irregular menstrual cycles or menstrual cycles that stop completely
- Weight gain
- Male-pattern hair growth on your face and body
- Thinning hair on your scalp
Experts still aren’t sure what exactly causes PCOS, but genetics and insulin resistance play significant roles. That means your risk of PCOS is higher if you have a family member with the condition, or you have insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance occurs when your body's cells don’t respond effectively to insulin, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. This can result in increased production of insulin and androgens (male hormones) in your ovaries, contributing to PCOS symptoms.
The connections between PCOS and infertility
Up to 80% of women with PCOS are infertile, making PCOS one of the top causes of female infertility. That’s because irregular menstrual cycles and anovulation — the lack of ovulation — are common characteristics of PCOS, and you need to ovulate to get pregnant.
Ovulation is the process in which your ovaries release a mature egg that’s ready for fertilization. If sperm fertilize the egg, you can get pregnant. But when ovulation doesn’t occur regularly or at all, your chances of getting pregnant naturally are significantly reduced.
Along with irregular or absent ovulation, the hormonal imbalances in PCOS can lead to other fertility-related issues.
High androgen levels can interfere with your body’s ability to develop and release mature eggs. And without regular ovulation, your uterine lining (endometrium) may not develop properly, making it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant and grow.
How PCOS treatment can improve your fertility
The good news is that PCOS is treatable — and treatment can significantly improve your fertility. In fact, with the right interventions, many women with PCOS go on to have successful pregnancies.
We offer comprehensive PCOS evaluations to diagnose your condition and develop a personalized treatment plan based on your goals. Here are some approaches we often recommend for managing PCOS-related infertility:
Medications can stimulate ovulation and make it easier to get pregnant naturally. Clomiphene citrate and letrozole are two common options to induce ovulation. Metformin, a medication for Type 2 diabetes, can also improve insulin sensitivity and regulate menstrual cycles.
Assisted reproductive technologies (ART)
If medications alone aren’t effective, we may recommend trying assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), like intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF). These techniques increase your chances of getting pregnant by managing the fertilization process more closely.
Finally, adopting a healthier lifestyle can help you manage insulin resistance and improve hormonal balance. We may recommend eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and managing stress.
If you’re overweight, working toward a healthy weight can have a significant positive impact on fertility. Weight loss can improve your hormonal balance and increase the likelihood of regular ovulation to make conception easier.
PCOS is common — and it’s important to recognize the impact it has on fertility. If you’re struggling to get pregnant, it could be PCOS, and treatment could make a big difference.
Call to schedule a fertility appointment at OB-GYN Associates of Marietta in Marietta or Woodstock, Georgia, and start learning more today.