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Whether you have been diagnosed with PCOS or suspect you may have it, you may be wondering how this condition affects your fertility. Many women who are diagnosed with PCOS are told that they have no hope of getting pregnant naturally and embarking on the journey to parenthood may sound like a challenge.
However, this is a misconception and it’s time to debunk it.
PCOS does not mean that you are infertile. Pregnancy is not out of reach for women diagnosed with PCOS and this condition can be managed to pave the way for a successful pregnancy.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a syndrome. This means that when a set of certain signs and symptoms occur together, it is called PCOS.
PCOS is diagnosed when 'cystic' ovaries are visible on an ultrasound, accompanied by at least two of the following symptoms: irregular menstrual cycles, elevated androgens (sometimes called “male hormones”), and insulin resistance.
It’s often misunderstood to mean that a person with PCOS suffers from ovarian cysts, while in reality, the “cysts” in PCOS are not cysts at all.
Instead, these cysts are actually an abundance of immature follicles, fluid-filled sacs where eggs mature. During the menstrual cycle, once an egg develops and matures, the follicle bursts, and an egg is released.
However, in PCOS, this last step, ovulation itself, is the biggest hurdle. Because ovulation is interrupted in PCOS, the ovary will show multiple follicles, compared to an ovary that is ovulating regularly.
Why Does PCOS Affect Fertility?
The main reason that polycystic ovarian syndrome impacts fertility is that this condition slows or stops ovulation. Without the presence of an egg, conception cannot occur.
The majority of PCOS is driven by insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells of the body become resistant to the action of insulin. Insulin’s job is to bring sugar into the cell for use as energy.
Insulin resistance results in elevated blood sugar levels as the body struggles to transport sugar into the cells from the bloodstream. This causes the cells to lack the energy they need.
On a broad scale, this can lead to chronic fatigue and weight gain. Within the ovary, insulin resistance interrupts the maturation of ovarian follicles, slowing or preventing ovulation and decreasing egg quality.
Chronically elevated insulin also causes the body to overproduce androgens, which imbalance the hormones and further disrupt egg development and ovulation.
Some signs of elevated androgens (and PCOS) include irregular menstrual cycles, amenorrhea or irregular periods, cystic ovaries, hirsutism, weight gain, acne or oily skin, skin darkening, and hair loss or thinning.
The good news is that with proper management, these challenges can be effectively addressed. By regulating and promoting ovulation, balancing hormones, and reducing insulin resistance, we can enhance fertility potential in women with PCOS.
PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder affecting women in their reproductive years but getting pregnant with PCOS is possible. By addressing root causes, women with PCOS can improve their fertility and increase their chances of conception.
Goals for Getting Pregnant with PCOS: