Having a child is one of the greatest things that could ever happen to a woman. It fulfills their longing to have their own family with their loving husband finally. And most of us will agree that seeing your newborn baby is such a priceless milestone that you can never trade for anything else in this world.
But some women face tons of challenges when it comes to getting pregnant. An estimated 5 million women worldwide are not as lucky as other women due to a medical condition that affects their fertility. This condition is known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS, which poses problems to 1 in 10 women who have reached their childbearing age.
PCOS can affect any woman regardless of their ethnicity or geography. It becomes a common fertility problem in the US, which is reported to have affected around 4-12% of women. In the UK, a study confirms that the said condition afflicts about 1 in every five women.
However, there is good news for all the ladies out there who fear that they might get PCOS. Fertility treatments for PCOS are possible thanks to modern medicine. But before we venture into that, we need to learn all about the things we need to know about PCOS as well as its causes and symptoms.
Understanding Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS refers to a health condition involving an imbalance in women’s hormones, particularly the one that is responsible for reproduction. The inequality that occurs in the woman’s body affects the most important part of her reproduction system, which is the ovary. Usually, the ovary releases an egg cell after the menstrual cycle of each month. However, those who have PCOS either do not develop an egg cell or don’t release any during the crucial period of ovulation. This becomes the primary reason why some women are having difficulty getting pregnant.
Women who have PCOS usually have a larger ovary as compared with the normal ones. This is due to the multiple tiny cysts that house the egg cells that are not released or underdeveloped. Take note, however, that there is a slight difference between PCOS and having Polycystic Ovaries or PCO.
Though both share a significant similarity, Having PCO would not necessarily mean you also have a PCOS since the former is only referring to the condition of having a different ovary, particularly in size. At the same time, PCOS is connected to hormonal imbalance.
What Causes PCOS?
PCOS is caused by a high level of androgen or testosterone in one’s body. Although these hormones are essential for men, women do produce a small amount of it in their bodies. But once a woman releases more of this male hormone than the usual, it can cause changes in their body like voluminous hair growth, acne, and in most serious cases hindering their ovary from producing egg cells for reproduction.
Insulin is also a major cause of PCOS once its levels become too high. Insulin is an essential hormone in one’s body as it functions as a converter of the food we take into energy. However, if it reaches an alarming level that leads to a high glucose level, it can lead to PCOS eventually since it interferes with ovulation as well as incur weight gain problems.
As you all know, women who have PCOS have a slightly higher chance of acquiring diabetes later on if they failed to manage their insulin level, which can lead to what we called as insulin resistance. Other hormones and enzymes that also cause PCOS once their degree is unchecked are the following:
- Luteinising Hormone – this hormone is vital for ovulation at the right levels. Butt once raised, it can inflict abnormal effects in your ovaries.
- Sex Hormone Binding Globulin – when this enzyme drops its level, testosterone’s effect becomes prevalent and thus prevent your ovary from producing its egg cell.
- Prolactin – some women who have PCOS exhibit an increased level in these hormones whose primary function is for milk production of the breast glands.
Signs and Symptoms
The following are the signs and symptoms that are usually checked or monitored to identify if you have a PCOS:
- Irregular period or menstrual cycle – It is reasonable to have a longer or shorter menstrual cycle from an average of 28 days. However, if the length of your period keeps changing or suddenly starts to have fewer periods each year, you should undergo some medical checkup. A woman who has PCOS also experiences a sudden stop on their menstrual period.
- Sudden weight gain/weight loss – this is prevalent since insulin, which also affects weight, is involved in PCOS.
- Increases in the amount of facial and body hair – Around 70% of women with PCOS acquired a condition called Hirsutism, where hair suddenly grows in body parts where men usually have hair.
- Acne – not just in the face but also at the back and in the chest
- Balding – particularly male-pattern baldness
- Dark Skins – these are usually seen along the creases of the neck and under the breast. Some also show skin tags or flaps in the armpit area.
- Difficulty in getting pregnant.
Who Usually Gets PCOS?
Every woman can have the possibility to get a PCOS. Those who have the age between 15 to 44, 5% – 10% of them might have the chance to acquire it. Usually, women find out they have PCOS once they start noticing that they are having problems in their pregnancy.
Although it was mentioned above that PCOS doesn’t set any exceptions, women who have obesity problems are much prone to have one. Also, if you find out that one or two from your family members has a PCOS, there is a high chance that you might even get it since it is suggested that PCOS might have something to do with genes.
Is PCOS Connected With Other Medical Conditions?
Several studies discover a specific link with PCOS to other medical problems. Acquiring PCOS might increase the chance of developing the following:
- Diabetes – According to research, women who have PCOS might later acquire type 2 diabetes than in life, especially in the involvement of a high amount of insulin.
- Anxiety and Depression – having a hard time on their pregnancy leads several women to suffer from sudden mood swings, which happen due to the imbalance hormones.
- High Blood Pressure is one of the most severe medical conditions connected to PCOS, which often leads to other risky health issues like heart diseases.
- Endometrial Cancer – the typical symptoms brought by PCOS, such as the imbalance of insulin and obesity pose a high risk in acquiring cancer in the uterus’ lining.
- Sleep Apnea – This is a sleep-related condition prevalent among overweight individuals. It interrupted one’s breathing during his or her sleeping time, which can be dangerous if not treated well.
- High cholesterol – it has been observed that women who have PCOS tend to have a high level of bad cholesterol, which is not suitable for their heart.
How Do I Know If I Have PCOS?
Doing physical exams and looking at your medical history are among the methods used by doctors to test whether you have a PCOS. They will also be based on symptoms if you have shown at least two of the below:
- Having an irregular menstrual cycle
- Cyst in both ovaries which is done using Ultrasound
Physical evidence shows that you have a high amount of male hormones such as facial hair growth, acne, oily skin, and sudden balding of hair in your head
The following are the test that usually undertaken to effectively diagnosed PCOS:
- Pelvic Exam – used to identify if you are exhibiting a high level of testosterone and to check the size of your ovary.
- Blood Test – This is also done to check your hormone level particularly androgen. It can also become an alternative means to check sugar and cholesterol levels, all linked to PCOS.
- Physical Examinations – this is an over-all test generally conducted to check vital information in your body, such as BMI, blood pressure, and some noticeable changes or appearances in your body, like dark skin, acne, and facial hair common symptoms of PCOS.
- Sonogram – this doesn’t only check your ovary for cyst but also enables your doctor to examine the lining of your womb for detecting any other possible condition.
Is Getting Pregnant Possible If I Have A PCOS?
The answer, of course, is definitely YES. Although PCOS has not yet any existing treatment that will remove it from you, there are many ways on how you can minimize to treat all its symptoms that affect your capability to bear a child. Since it involves a problem in your ovulation, medical practitioners commonly suggest medications and practices that can help you boost your fertility and thus makes your ovary healthy enough to produce quality egg cells for reproduction.
Medicines that also aid in balancing the hormones in your body are also recommended to enable your ovary to function better, especially for the ovulation period. In a basic sense, PCOS’s effect can be alleviated via medications and lifestyle changes that promote health and fitness, which is needed for every woman to make their pregnancy less risky.
Fertility Treatments For PCOS
Women can opt for low-cost treatment of their PCOS, which entails proper eating regimen and exercise to help them lose weight, which is essential for their pregnancy. But there are medicines that they can also utilize to increase their fertility rate and correct their hormone count that affects their ovulation. For more comprehensive information, we will divide the treatment for those who wanted to conceive a child and for those who didn’t want to conceive a child yet wished to reduce the symptoms and risk of PCOS:
For Those Who Don’t Wanted To Conceive
Contraceptive pills and other birth control methods such as intrauterine hormone devices (IUD) can help manage those who have irregular periods. It also recommended reducing the risk of having endometrial cancer. Pills who have estrogen and progesterone can also help reduce acne and facial hair, which are also due to the increased level of male hormones.
Though initially a medicine to counter diabetes, Metformin was also now being used to prevent the development of PCOS symptoms in someone’s body. This medicine explicitly targets your insulin and makes it more able to control the blood sugar level in your blood. More studies also show that Metformin can also lower the levels of androgen as well as helping in lowering both cholesterol and the risk of having a miscarriage.
However, Metformin can induce some side effects such as bowel and stomach discomfort. These can include diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes abdominal pain.
For Those Who Wanted To Conceive
Medications that are commonly taken by a woman with PCOS who wants to get pregnant are either augments on their ovulation or increase the potency of their fertility. The most popular among these medications is clomiphene citrate, whose effect is to stimulate the ovaries so that it can produce egg cells. It is usually the go-to medicine for fertility treatments of PCOS.
Although unlicensed for PCOs since it is not a conventional treatment for infertility, Letrozole offers the same effect of clomiphene citrate despite being used originally for treating cancers. Letrozole is often used when you have acquired resistance to clomiphene citrate, making it useless for stimulating ovulation.
On the other hand, Gonadotropin is a fertility medicine base from the hormones in your body that help in triggering ovulation of your ovaries. Unlike the two medicines, as mentioned earlier, Gonadotropin is injectable and can be utilized together with intrauterine insemination to increase the chances of a baby. The only problem with this medicine is that it may cost ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome or the ovary’s overstimulation if the dosage is not monitored correctly.
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) or In Vitro Maturation, it is the next method done by women who get unsatisfied results with the oral medications of PCOS. IVF’s procedure is similar to Gonadotropin where you will be injected with a fertility drug. Afterward, the egg cell that will produce will be retrieved and put in a petri dish together with a sperm cell for fertilization.
On the other hand, IVM does not require any dose of fertility drugs that will be injected to you. Your doctor will only have to retrieve an immature egg cell from your ovary, and then they mature it in their laboratory.
Surgery is among the last options that can be used by anyone if medication and injectables seem to fail. Ovarian drilling is a special kind of medicine that doctors create a few holes on the thickened outer shell of the ovary using lasers of fine needles. This helps to trigger ovulation, which can last for up 6 to 8 months only.
Losing weight is an essential factor in increasing the chance of having a healthy pregnancy, which can be affected due to obesity, a common symptom of PCOS. Studies have shown that ovulation can have a kickstart via losing 5% – 10% of your weight. Daily exercise, like simple walking in conjunction with a balanced diet, also regularizes your menstrual cycle around 50%.
Below are some eating habits that you can adopt as an alternative and natural fertility treatments for PCOS, which helps to invigorate your fertility capability:
- If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to eat alongside your fave sweets with a good dose of protein and nuts to trim down the sugar you will intake.
- Take a more significant breakfast but cut it down into a smaller one during dinner.
- Eat foods with complex carbs like whole grains.
- Take more foods with monosaturated fats like avocado.
- Include in your diet iron and fiber-rich food
- Try the Mediterranean-style diet, which comprises more vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based meals like beans, lentils, and nuts, which you will usually take every day for about six or more servings. Go light with salt and opt for moderate proteins made from chicken and cheese instead of red meat.
- Eat seafood at least two times a week.
- Eat more foods that can help in controlling your blood sugar and go moderate to zero with foods that have a high glycemic index. If that is impossible, take them with foods with fats or protein to help lower their sugar level.
- Avoid at all costs those junk foods and processed food.
- Avoid those with high trans fats content like shortenings.
- Take the right amount of multivitamins supplements daily
- Go for full-fat dairy products instead of the low-fat ones.
A nutritious diet will be more effective if we include healthy activities in our regimen like no smoking, moderate to no alcohol, and a more active lifestyle like joining workout programs or meditation sessions that will keep your stress free.
PCOS’s Effects To Pregnancy and How To Prevent Them
PCOS can produce unwanted effects on anyone, even during her pregnancy. These may include but are not limited to macrosomia or the condition where your baby is too heavy as compared to others after delivery, miscarriage, hypertension, which is a possible sign of pre-eclampsia, and gestational diabetes. Cesarean is also known to be shared for pregnant women who have PCOS.
Other complications observed to some who have PCOS include ectopic pregnancy where the fertilized egg is developed in the fallopian tube instead of in the uterus. Early birth, which may lead to a premature baby, can also happen as well as other neonatal complications that might endanger both the mother or the child in the womb.
These, however, can be prevented by taking new measures that help lower the risk imposed by PCOS in pregnancy:
- Losing your weight or reaching a healthy weight before pregnancy can help avoid the risk mentioned above and allow you to deliver your baby with much more ease. Obesity and overweight become a primary problem for someone with or without PCOS, so it is best to manage your weight as your first step in having a baby.
- Normalize your blood sugar levels by having a healthy diet, taking daily exercise, or taking prescribed medication. Having an average blood sugar level can reduce the complications that might occur during pregnancy and also lower the possibility of acquiring diabetes.
- Monitor your blood pressure and blood cholesterol. As always, start adopting a healthy lifestyle if you want to start planning to have a child. Get guidance from your trusted doctors to help you manage first the symptoms of PCOS.
Signs of PCOS can manifest early on even during the puberty age of a woman. However, it is usually common for anyone who has reached the age of 20s to 40, wherein they are either decided to have a child or wanted to have another child—hearing your doctors saying that you are positive in having PCOS can be devastating at some point, which is why experts never removed the connection of this condition to some mental problems being experienced by a woman, which some might misunderstand much.
But PCOS shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals of having a baby that will complete your family. This is why you should always seek medical help as soon as possible whenever you find out that you are showing some of its symptoms. This health condition is manageable, and their so many methods of treatment that you can avail from medications down to the natural ones.
Most of all, keep your body healthy and fit. Take exercise and a nutritious diet as your very first step towards pregnancy that will ensure a high chance of less risk labor but also having a healthy baby in the process.