Fertility Fact: The causes of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) are unclear, but the main underlying problem is a hormonal imbalance.
While the exact causes of PCOS remain unclear, what is known are the effects PCOS can have on your body and your fertility. Women with PCOS create a higher than normal level of androgens. Androgens are normally present in both sexes, but typically considered “male hormones.” Elevated levels in women will impact the development of eggs and interfere with ovulation. For this reason, women with PCOS will not ovulate with regularity, if at all. Besides the interference with ovulation, PCOS can also lead to long-term health issues such as diabetes and heart disease. A proper diagnosis is the first step to better overall health.
According to Shady Grove Fertility physician, Dr. Joseph Doyle, “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is the most common endocrine problem in the female population. Though it can create considerable frustration in those trying to become pregnant, there are a number of treatment options that can bring success.”
The PCOS Cycle
Too much androgen, not enough progesterone
A woman’s ovaries have small fluid-filled sacs called follicles, where eggs develop. As the egg grows in the ovary the follicle will enlarge. Upon maturation of the egg, the follicle will open and the egg is released, captured by the fallopian tubes, and travels to the uterus.
The difference for women that suffer from PCOS is that the egg doesn’t fully mature, but stops growing in early development. As repeated waves of follicles stop growing in early development, many small follicles (also called cysts) accumulate, giving the ovary a “poly-cystic” appearance. Due to the lack of ovulation, progesterone is not made in the female body and the menstrual cycle will become irregular or completely absent.
PCOS presents itself in a range of ways in different women and tend to be mild at first. The primary symptom of PCOS is irregular menstrual cycles. In addition, some women also experience weight gain and trouble losing weight, acne, excess body hair growth and thinning hair on scalp.
Women are often diagnosed with PCOS in their teens but impacts women throughout their reproductive years. While there is no “PCOS Test,” your Shady Grove Fertility physician will review your medical history and perform basic fertility testing, including blood work to check hormone and sugar levels as well as an ultrasound to evaluate the appearance of the ovaries and uterine lining. Read more on diagnosing PCOS.
Treatment of PCOS focuses on normalizing hormone levels and the menstrual cycle, which is achieved through a range of lifestyle changes and medications. The treatment will be determined based on whether you want to become pregnant, the severity of symptoms, and how at risk you are for other medical conditions. A combination of lifestyle changes and fertility medication is often advised for women with PCOS trying to conceive. Read “PCOS: One Size Doesn’t Fit All” for more on treating polycystic ovary syndrome.