PCOS: What is it and can it affect fertility?

PCOS: What is it and can it affect fertility?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder affecting the lives of more than 10 million people around the world. It is common among women who are of reproductive age. In some cases, it can lead to cysts being formed in the ovaries, hence its name, but each person can have different symptoms, and the treatments vary. 

“When ovulation doesn’t happen, the ovaries can develop many small cysts. These cysts make hormones called androgens,” explains a Johns Hopkins Medicine article. “Women with PCOS often have high levels of androgens. This can cause more problems with a woman’s menstrual cycle. And it can cause many of the symptoms of PCOS.”

Some women with PCOS also have too much insulin, which seems to lead to more androgen production. As a result, those with PCOS can have acne, excessive body hair growth, weight gain and problems with ovulation. Irregular periods (either infrequent or long-lasting) are also a symptom.

There isn’t a specific test to diagnose PCOS, so if you are experiencing any or all of the symptoms, it’s best to talk to your medical provider. 

How can PCOS affect fertility?

Each case of PCOS is different, but one of the symptoms is female infertility. That’s because those with PCOS do not ovulate regularly.

The prevalence of infertility in women with PCOS varies between 70 and 80%,” according to a 2015 study. However, there are some treatments available, from lifestyle changes to drugs that stimulate ovulation.

Supermodel Romee Strijd outlined her experience in a post on social media, saying she was diagnosed with PCOS after not getting her period for seven years. She was “devastated” because starting a family was her biggest dream.

“I started to research PCOS and came to the conclusion that mine was not the typical [PCOS.] Mine was because of my body being in fight or flight mode,” she explains in the Instagram post, “which means my body was under constant stress. I never felt mentally super stressed so it was hard to understand this, but my life consisted of traveling all the time (no biorhythm), working out every day, eating super clean (restricting foods). I think I pressured my body too much, and honestly every body is so different but I think my weight was not good for my body to function properly and couldn’t handle the constant traveling.”

Strijd eventually started getting her period again, and was able to conceive. 

Actor Lea Michelle says she also tried to get pregnant after receiving her PCOS diagnosis. She had irregular periods and eventually had to have “multiple procedures to remove polyps and cysts and scar tissue.”

She later gave birth to a son.

Despite the fact that PCOS can be treatable, one study says that an “estimated 1 in 10 women with this condition go without adequate treatment because of underdiagnosis.” 

To learn more about PCOS, visit the PCOS Awareness Association.

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