PCOS – polycystic ovary syndrome – is a disorder of the endocrine system. The condition is common, affecting up to 10 percent of women of childbearing age in this country.
Although all women have circulating levels of androgens, or ‘male’ hormones, women with PCOS typically have higher than normal levels. As a result, they can experience irregular or missed periods, excessive hair growth, and acne. The condition gets its name from the many small ovarian follicles, or ‘cysts’ that can be seen on ultrasound.
In addition to irregular or infrequent periods, women with PCOS may experience the following symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Excess facial and body hair
- Male-pattern baldness
- Pelvic pain
PCOS and Infertility
Many women with PCOS often have difficulty becoming pregnant because they don’t ovulate regularly. Follicles start to grow but do not fully mature and ovulate, so women can go months at a time without a period.
In addition, women with polycystic ovary syndrome are at increased risk of developing certain medical conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. During pregnancy, they may also be more likely to experience gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, miscarriage and premature delivery.
If women with PCOS go for prolonged periods of time without a period they can be at increased risk for endometrial hyperplasia or cancer.
Oral contraceptives can reduce hair growth, improve acne, regulate menstrual periods and reduce cancer risk.
Women with PCOS who wish to become pregnant may benefit from weight loss. Metformin, an oral insulin-sensitizing medication, may also improve ovulation by helping the body use insulin more effectively.
Your reproductive endocrinologist may prescribe medications to induce ovulation, such as clomiphene citrate or Letrozole. If oral medications are unsuccessful, injectable gonadotropins may be given to aid in egg growth.
When the above treatments are unsuccessful, your fertility specialist may recommend in vitro fertilization (IVF) as an option.
If you have PCOS and elect to undergo fertility treatment, talk with your reproductive endocrinologist about the available options.