5 Fast Facts About Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Your journey to making your family may have gotten sidetracked by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). You're probably wondering what it is, and just how it impacts fertility. Here are five fast facts that will help you understand more, and get your journey back on track:

1. It's just what it sounds like.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where many cycsts – small, fluid- or air-filled sacs – form on a woman's ovaries. Women with PCOS produce more male sex hormones, called androgens. The overproduction of androgens interferes with the body's signals to develop and release eggs from the ovaries.
If your body isn't producing and releasing eggs regularly, your chances of getting pregnant are greatly reduced.

2. You probably know someone with PCOS.

PCOS is fairly common. Between five and 15 percent of women of childbearing age have PCOS, and most women with PCOS aren't even aware they have it until they experience infertility.

We're not sure what causes PCOS, but underlying factors may be genetic. PCOS tends to run in families, and can be passed down from either the mother's or father's side. Many women with PCOS are also insulin resistant, and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Unhealthy diet and exercise habits can also play a role.

3. Hair growth may be a signal.

Because their bodies are producing more male hormones, women with PCOS tend to have irregular menstrual cycles, or may even stop menstruating altogether. They also tend to grow more facial and body hair in patterns and places similar to male hair growth, and may also have acne outbreaks in those areas. At the same time, women with PCOS my experience thinning hair on their scalp, similar to male pattern baldness.

Weight gain also appears to be a factor in PCOS. Women with PCOS may find it difficult to manage their weight.

The presence of these factors helps doctors determine whether or not a woman has PCOS. While no single medical test exists to diagnose PCOS, a doctor can confirm the diagnosis with physical exam, pelvic exam, ultrasound and/or blood test.

During the physical exam, the doctor will look for thinning hair or other visible signals of a hormonal imbalance. If a pelvic exam reveals an enlarged clitoris or ovaries, that can be a sign that too much androgen is present. A blood test can confirm levels of androgens and other hormones, and help rule out thyroid issues. An ultrasound will help observe whether or not ovaries have a high number of cysts.

At New England Fertility, rigorous testing is an important part of our process, and will help us discover the underlying issues and develop the treatment approach best suited to your needs.

4. PCOS can be overcome.

The good news is that PCOS is treatable. The first step for some women may be to make lifestyle changes to address insulin resistance and better manage weight. Diabetes medication, such as Metformin, might be prescribed. Losing weight and managing insulin may be enough to stimulate ovulation without further intervention.

Another option is to stimulate ovulation using an oral medication such clomiphene (Clomid) or letrozole (Femara).

If oral medications are not successful, hormones knowns as gonadotropins can be injected. Gonadotropins also act to stimulate ovulation.

If stimulating ovulation using medication proves ineffective, doctors may also try a procedure known as ovarian drilling. During this procedure, a surgeon uses a laser or fine electrical needle to penetrate the surface of the ovary, improving the chances of ovulation.

If medical and surgical interventions are unsuccessful, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is also an option with a significant success rate.

5. Insurance coverage for treating PCOS varies.

Coverage varies from plan to plan, and we'll be glad to support you as you discuss options with your insurance carrier.

Sources:
womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome
nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/PCOS/conditioninfo/Pages/infertility.aspx

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