Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder characterized by cysts in the ovaries, excessive androgen (male hormone) production by the ovaries, irregular menstruation and problems with the release of eggs (ovulation) for fertilization. The exact cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome is unknown, but is most often associated with genetics and excessive insulin production.
PCOS is most often diagnosed during the child-bearing years when a woman is having trouble getting pregnant. Your doctor diagnoses PCOS on the basis of your medical history and by performing a thorough physical examination. Some women with PCOS find it difficult conceiving and require fertility treatment, while others are able to conceive naturally. Since PCOS results in irregular or no ovulation, planning and conceiving can become difficult.
The good news is that getting pregnant with PCOS is possible! Treatment is mainly aimed at establishing regular ovulation. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by losing weight, exercising and maintaining a healthy diet, can also help regulate ovulation and improve your chances of conceiving.
If lifestyle modifications do not work, your doctor may recommend the following:
- Ovulation-inducing drugs or injectable gonadotropins (Pituitary hormones), namely follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).
- Laparoscopic ovarian drilling, an outpatient surgical procedure, may be performed where a small incision is made in your abdomen and a thin needle with electric current is inserted to burn small sections of the ovary. This helps to lower the levels of androgen production to facilitate regular ovulation.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF) is another treatment option, where various techniques are performed to fertilize your eggs and implant the embryo back in your uterus. The process involves the induction of ovulation with medication, collection of matured eggs from the ovaries, and fertilizing them with the sperm in the laboratory. They are allowed to develop until the 5-day embryo stage. One or more mature embryos are then removed and introduced into the uterus through the vagina. After transfer, if an embryo attaches or sticks to the womb lining, it results in a pregnancy!
PCOS is not uncommon as it affects as many as 5 million women in the US. Talk to your doctor about treatment options that may be best for you to increase your chance of pregnancy.