Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that affects approximately 1 in 10 women of childbearing age.
Symptoms include infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, as well as excess male hormone (androgen) levels.
"Some woman may experience acne and unusual/extra hair growth, but this does not happen to all women with PCOS," says Dr. Lori Noble, a board-certified primary care physician and a member of Binto's Science Council. (Learn more about what a PCOS diagnosis means here here.)
How PCOS Affects Fertility
Unfortunately, PCOS may also affect your fertility if you're trying to get pregnant. The extra male hormones in your body can interfere with the development of your eggs and the regular release of your eggs — a.k.a. ovulation.
And when healthy eggs aren't released, they can't be fertilized by sperm. "Because ovulation is not happening regularly, there may be many small eggs or 'cysts' on your ovaries, hence the name 'polycystic," name of the syndrome," Dr. Noble says.
In order to diagnose PCOS, your doctor will check your hormone levels, both to see if you have an elevated testosterone level and to rule out other causes of irregular periods. Your doctor may also check an ultrasound of your ovaries.
"If you are diagnosed with PCOS, it is possible to reset your body's hormones to help your ovaries ovulate," Dr. Noble says. Be sure to work with a reproductive endocrinologist or fertility specialist. They’ve had additional years of schooling that have been them experts in the field of trying to get pregnant with PCOS.
"Under the guidance of a reproductive endocrinologist, most women with PCOS will be able to take oral medication to induce ovulation, while some women will ultimately need in vitro fertilization (IVF)."
Medications that can stimulate ovulation include Clomiphene (a.k.a. Clomid) and Letrozole. Your gynecologist will monitor you with frequent blood tests and ultrasounds to determine if/when ovulation is about to happen. Next up is getting busy with your partner between the sheets; otherwise, you will be assisted with intrauterine insemination (IUI). "Typically a patient will be given up to 6 cycles of IUI before IVF is recommended," Dr. Noble says.
Real talk: "Despite all of the medical advances now available to assist women who struggle with infertility, it can still be a stressful process with a lot of ups and downs," Dr. Noble says. Be open and honest with your doctor if you have question, concerns or fears so that they can be addressed and so you can be reassured.
And don't underestimate the power you have to maximize your own fertility! Eating healthy, exercising, taking the appropriate prenatal vitamins, and taking care of your own mental health are critical as you embark on this journey.