September is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (or PCOS) Awareness Month. While you may not be familiar with PCOS, it’s pretty common among women and is present in nearly 4-20% of women.
PCOS is a metabolic syndrome characterized by elevated levels of androgens, menstrual irregularities, and potentially insulin resistance. It may start with some rather annoying and persistent symptoms, but over time it can also lead to more long-term conditions such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease if left unmanaged.
At Nova IVF, we are knowledgeable about PCOS and work closely with patients diagnosed with PCOS to help them work through any fertility-related issues associated with the syndrome so they can grow their families.
Symptoms of PCOS
There is often a wide range of symptoms for those dealing with PCOS. You may have several of the symptoms or only a few. These symptoms may also change as you age. Some common symptoms of PCOS include excess body hair, moderate to severe acne, irregular periods, and weight gain or trouble losing weight. Additional symptoms may also include the thinning of hair, insulin resistance, unexplained tiredness, and mood changes.
Many symptoms can be confused with other conditions, so it’s important to speak with your gynecologist for a full workup if you think PCOS may cause your symptoms.
What Exactly Causes PCOS
While the exact cause of PCOS is still unknown, we know that many issues associated with PCOS are due to hormonal imbalances. The leading theories as of today are that a mix of genetics and environmental factors contribute to PCOS. This means that your chances of having PCOS are higher if someone in your immediate family is also diagnosed with PCOS. It’s also believed that diet, medications, stress, and other lifestyle factors can plan a role in PCOS.
Treatment Options for PCOS
There is no cure for PCOS, but several treatment options exist. Once you’ve been diagnosed, your doctor can discuss the options and explain what would work best for your situation.
The most common treatment options include lifestyle modifications, medications, and managing the physical symptoms associated with PCOS. Your doctor may recommend changes to your physical activity and daily eating habits as a first step in treating your PCOS. While those with PCOS have a harder time losing weight, it’s still important to remain active and eat right, as this can help improve insulin resistance and reduce your risks for long-term illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
Eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and keeping your dietary fiber at no less than 25 grams per day can help regulate some excess hormones associated with PCOS. While all patients can benefit from eating like this, patients must try to get at least 9-11 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Suppose cycles are irregular and a woman is not trying to get pregnant. In that case, it is important that a woman considers treatment to regulate the cycles to minimize the chance of endometrial hyperplasia which can lead to endometrial cancer.
Screening for diabetes, abnormal lipids and elevated blood pressure should happen more frequently for women with PCOS because these conditions are higher.
In addition to lifestyle modifications, you may need to consider medications that combat some issues associated with PCOS. Hormonal contraceptives can help ease some of the common symptoms. At the same time, those trying to conceive may be prescribed medications such as Clomid or Metformin to address the issues with ovulation and high androgen levels.
For some of the physical symptoms, such as excess hair growth or acne, there are many over-the-counter options to help.
The Impact of PCOS on Women’s Fertility
PCOS commonly goes undiagnosed until a woman is trying to get pregnant. Some symptoms may be considered a nuisance until this point, which can negatively impact the chances of conception.
Some women who have PCOS may suffer from irregular or no periods at all, and this is directly related to ovulation. Having irregular periods means less opportunity to ovulate, and some women struggle to ovulate.
Speak with your doctor about any concerns with your cycles or possible symptoms associated with PCOS. There are medications and other recommendations your provider can make to help you conceive, so getting a diagnosis is key to moving forward with your goal of becoming pregnant.
In addition to medication assistance, fertility treatment options such as IUI or IVF can also help you if you struggle with fertility issues related to PCOS.
At Nova IVF, we see patients regularly who struggle with infertility issues related to PCOS and can help you determine the best course of action.