Getting pregnant > Fertility problems > Fertility issues > Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) - the facts

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) - the facts

All you need to know about polycystic ovary syndrome, from its symptoms to possible treatments tod its likely impact on fertility and pregnancy.
What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a fertility-impairing condition that is largely caused by an imbalance in the reproductive hormones that prevent 'normal' ovulation from taking place.

Low levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FHS) coupled with consistently high levels of luteinising hormone (LH) mean that while the ovarian follicles start to develop eggs in preparation for ovulation, they never reach maturity. As a result, these under-developed eggs remain 'trapped' on the ovaries where they form the cysts characteristic of this condition.

Increased levels of the hormone insulin (which is involved in controlling blood-sugar levels) also plays a role by stimulating excess testosterone production in the ovaries . In fact, it's believed that women who suffer with PCOS are somewhat insulin-resistant which is why higher levels are found in the body . This excess of testosterone can, in turn, prevent ovulation and cause some of the other symptoms characteristic of this condition.

What are the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome?

These differ from woman to woman however, common PCOS symptoms include:
  • Irregular periods or no periods at all

  • Either very light or very heavy periods

  • Mild to moderate abdominal cramps

  • Acne - often on the face

  • Overweight - particularly around the mid-section

  • Fatigue

  • Excessive hair growth on the face, chest, forearms, lower abdomen and legs

  • The appearance of excess ovarian cysts
How is polycystic ovary syndrome diagnosed?

While ultrasound scans and tests that investigate the balance of hormones in your blood will be used to confirm a diagnosis of PCOS, for the most part your doctor will make an initial diagnosis based on your medical history.

If you are having problems conceiving, experiencing irregular periods along with a number of the other characteristic symptoms of PCOS such as acne, weight gain and excessive hair growth, it's likely that your doctor will suggest polycystic ovary syndrome as a likely cause.

How is polycystic ovary syndrome treated?

Initially, your doctor may recommend managing the condition through lifestyle changes such as reducing the amount of fat and sugar you consume and, if you're overweight, bringing your BMI down to a healthier level. For many women making small changes to their lifestyle of this nature can make a big difference in reducing the physical symptoms of the condition (both externally and internally), helping the hormones to rebalance and ovulation to recommence.

In certain cases your doctor may also recommend a course of drug treatments to help manage the condition. However, the approach they take to this will vary largely depending on your individual requirements.

For those who aren't trying to conceive the contraceptive pill may be considered as an option to help balance and control hormonal fluctuations. Alternatively, for those who are trying for a baby, fertility enhancing drugs such as Clomifene and Gonadotrophins can be used to regulate hormones and stimulate ovulation. For women who haven't responded to drug therapies, surgery (in particular a laparoscopy procedure called ovarian diathermy) can be used.

How will polycystic ovary syndrome affect my chance of conceiving?

As one of the characteristic symptoms of PCOS is issues with the menstrual cycle centred on irregular or absent ovulation, it follows that fertility can be impaired for many women who suffer with this condition. This is largely because the balance of hormones needed to encourage the healthy development, and facilitate the release of an egg during each menstrual cycle is not available.

However, while polycystic ovary syndrome can make conceiving difficult, it is by no means impossible. If you follow the 'lifestyle advice' offered by your doctor and make use of the fertility boosting treatments they recommended your chance of conceiving and carrying a healthy pregnancy can be markedly improved.

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To mum2baby... out of curiosity what was the treatment they had you do?

I am 21 and have been married nearly 3 years diagnosed with PCOS about 6 months after marriage and have been trying to conceive with no luck. I also have been told that I will not be able to conceive which kills me to think of. I am taking clomid but still no luck... I am not overweight and I am healthy. I think I am on the more extreme side with my symptoms but I have never had anyone to compare them with. I go months even years without a period and have extremely bad cramps almost constantly. Intercourse is extremely painful almost everytime, almost unbareble. I have some hair growth on my face and breasts that shouldn't be there. Is there anything I can get for the hair growth?
by mrslady21 11th Apr 2011, 9:50am
I was diagnosed with PCOS when i was 20. Now 7 years on i am trying to concieve & have been trying since January 10. The Dr put me on clomid & i have just finished my 1st cycle with no great news. I am hoping that over my next 2 cycles something great will happen.
by Lotsofbabywishes 26th Nov 2010, 5:10pm
i have been diagonesed PCOS and i am under weight. Is there any way of conciving other than IVF treatment??
by sh1020 18th Aug 2010, 11:00am
i was told i had PCOS when i was 16 i am now 25 and for 9 years have been trying too have a baby but no luck i feel it will never happen for me as i am overweight and its so hard too get the weight off ive been put on weight loss tablets but they made me so ill i had too stop them being a mum is now the only thing i can think about and want and i have ben thinking about ivf but will the doctors let me with me being overweight? can anyone help?
by chazzle 14th May 2010, 5:05pm
Hi Everyone,

I was diagnosed with having PCOS two years ago. I led a healthy lifestyle but I looked at it in more detail and cut down on alcohol intake and upped my exericise. I also began to buy organic food. My doctor put me on metformin and then clomid (clomifene) and I am now 32 weeks pregnant and so excited about my baby's arrival. Getting diagnosed with PCOS answered alot of questions that I had about my body i.e absent periods, tiredness, always carrying wait around my middle even though I exercised like mad, and in my teens and early twenties painful periods. To anyone out there who has just found out they have PCOS its not as devasting as it seems, with the help of the drugs and changes to lifestyle you can conceive in the normal way.
by ClaireBooth 27th Apr 2009, 9:41am
Hi im 28 years old and I too suffer pcos, me and my husband have been trying for a baby for just over 6 years now and after a 3rd attempt of ivf I fell pregnant =) .....had many ups and downs but I am now in my third trimester and looking forward to the birth of my precious little girl this summer. Yet to think that I almost gave up hope!!!
by kamkaur 27th Apr 2009, 9:40am
I was diagnosed with this condition three and a half years ago and was convinced I would have endless trouble conceiving. Once my husband and I stopped using contraception, I fell pregnant within three months and am now well into my second trimester. Even if there's trouble conceiving naturally, fertility treatment tends to be very successful, so there is definite hope for anyone who finds they have this condition.
by Pigkate 23rd Apr 2009, 9:28am
Hi everybody. I have this condition. Im 20 years old and didnt have a period for over 2 years. Me and my partner were trying for a baby and I wasnt able to get pregnant at all. After 12 months of trying for a baby, I went to my hospital and was told that I may not be able to conceive at all. I underwent alot of tests and was put onto fertility ovulation treatment and 3 days later I was pregnant!!!! Me and my partner couldnt believe how quickly the treatment worked!! I havent had any other side effects from PCOS except the fact that I do not ovulate at all.
by mum2baby 20th Apr 2009, 9:39am