PCOS and Fertility*
Can You Get Pregnant with PCOS?
If you are one of the 9 to million American women diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, and you are hoping to get pregnant at some point, then you probably wonder whether you can.
Your health care provider can provide you with the best answer, taking into consideration the specifics of your condition and overall health, but keep reading for a better understanding of the disorder, its treatment options, and impact on fertility.
What is PCOS?
PCOS, a common endocrine disorder, affects up to one in 10 women of childbearing age.1 This health problem is caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones, specifically high levels of androgen hormones.
Androgens are generally considered to be male hormones, since men have much higher levels than women. Androgens are important in the development of male sex organs along with other male traits, such as hair growth and muscle development.
The hormonal imbalance can cause missed or irregular menstrual periods because of problems in the ovaries, which might not either develop an egg or release the egg during ovulation.
How PCOS Impacts Fertility
Though one of the most common causes of infertility in women, PCOS is the most treatable. Because PCOS affects egg development and ovulation, and you need an egg to be released in order to get pregnant, the disorder can make conceiving more difficult. Through a combination of lifestyle changes and fertility drugs, most women with PCOS are able to get pregnant.2
Symptoms of PCOS
Not every woman will experience all of these symptoms, and these symptoms on their own are not a diagnosis for PCOS. But common symptoms experienced by many women with PCOS include:
- Irregular or absent ovulation
- Absence of monthly menstrual cycles entirely, missed periods, or irregular periods
- Abnormal hair growth with too much hair on the upper lip, chin, around the nipples, or parts of the body where men typically have hair (this symptom, known as hirsutism, affects up to 70 percent of women with PCOS)
- Especially oily skin, causing acne on the face, chest, and upper back
- Thinning hair or hair loss that follows male-pattern baldness
- Obesity or difficulty losing weight (though women with PCOS also can have a normal weight)
- Polycystic ovaries, which means the ovaries are covered in tiny, benign, and painless androgen-containing cysts, confirmed during ultrasound
- Darkening of skin in the groin, beneath breasts, and along neck creases
- Resistance to insulin
- Elevated levels of androgens, such as testosterone
- Elevated levels of the hormone LH
- Skin tags, which are small, excess flaps of skin, in the neck and armpit area 3 4
Possible PCOS Treatments to Improve Fertility
Your doctor may suggest fertility medications to help stimulate ovarian production. Fertility drugs that are typically prescribed for PCOS include:
- Clomid: Clomiphene citrate, sold as Clomid, is the most commonly prescribed fertility medication.
- Metformin: If clomiphene alone does not help with ovulation, you may be prescribed metformin, which is a diabetes drug found to help some women with PCOS.
- Gonadotropins: If clomiphene and metformin don’t work, your doctor may inject you with gonadotropins, which contains a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), a luteinizing hormone (LH), or a combination of both.
- Letrozole: When other medications aren’t effective, your doctor might prescribe letrozole. Officially a cancer-treating drug, letrozole helps some women with ovulation.
Other Ways to Improve Fertility with PCOS
Though not all women with PCOS struggle with obesity, many do. PCOS negatively affects your body’s processing of insulin, and this can cause weight gain. Overweight women with PCOS are more likely to go months between periods. Not ovulating regularly is one of the primary reasons that women with PCOS have fertility issues.
For women having issues with fertility, research has found that losing some of the excess weight might regulate ovulation. According to research, even losing just 5 to 10 percent of your weight can jumpstart menstrual cycles.5
Losing weight probably will not be enough on its own for you to get pregnant with PCOS. Your health care provider might add fertility treatments to help you conceive.
You can improve your chances of getting pregnant by improving your overall health, through exercise, healthier diet, and getting the right nutrients that benefit reproductive health. All women, with or without PCOS, are more likely to conceive when their bodies are healthier. One study found that menstrual cycle regularity improved significantly when women with PCOS combined regular brisk walking and eating a healthier diet.6
*NOTICE: The contents of this website are for informational purposes only, and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a potential medical condition.