Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is one of the most common infertility issues found in women. Approximately 5 million women in the U.S. are affected by PCOS. But women with PCOS can get pregnant. In fact, the majority of women with PCOS can get pregnant through a combination of lifestyle changes and fertility medication. For those who can’t, IVF has been proven successful for many.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition caused by an imbalance in female hormones. Women with PCOS often have abnormal estrogen, progesterone and androgen levels, which can lead to a variety of symptoms caused by a disruption in your body’s normal processes and functions.

What causes PCOS?

What causes PCOS is not completely understood. Research shows PCOS is linked to genetic roots and influenced by lifestyle and environment through things like activity level and weight. A diagnosis as pre-diabetic or having any level of insulin resistance may be a predictor of PCOS.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Common symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods (more than 31 days between cycles), menstrual cycle changes, skin changes (acne or oily skin), ovarian cysts, weight gain, increased hair on the face or lower abdomen, and trouble getting pregnant.

What are the health risks of PCOS?

Some women only experience one or even none of the symptoms of PCOS. PCOS may increase your risk of pre-diabetes, also called insulin resistance, and diabetes. Another risk factor in women with PCOS is endometrial cancer, which concentrates in the lining of the uterus. Endometrial cancer is more likely in women who experience extremely irregular menstrual cycles with 3–4 months between them. Abnormal blood cholesterol has also been linked to PCOS.

Diagnosing PCOS

To diagnose PCOS, a doctor looks at symptoms, an ultrasound and blood tests. A PCOS diagnosis is made when a women is experiencing at least two out of the three following things:

  1. Irregular periods, specifically cycles with 35 or more days in between.
  2. Too high levels of male hormones, such as testosterone. This may present itself through a blood test or symptoms such as unwanted hair growth, oily skin and acne.
  3. One or more enlarged ovaries or an increase in antral follicle count (small, fluid-filled follicles in the ovary that contain eggs) seen via ultrasound.

How is PCOS treated?

Treatment for PCOS is usually determined by whether or not a women is trying to conceive. For women who are not trying to conceive, birth control pills are often prescribed to balance hormone levels and decrease symptoms. Additional medicines may be added to relieve acne and unwanted hair growth. Women who are trying to conceive may be prescribed medication to increase insulin sensitivity, along with ovulation stimulants to address fertility issues. Lifestyle changes also play a big role in treating PCOS. You may have heard of PCOS being treated with surgery—this response is no longer recommended.

Women who are not actively trying to conceive, but plan to conceive in the future and are currently experiencing symptoms of PCOS should consider visiting a doctor for testing and an individualized treatment plan.

Get Help from Your Fertility Friend

How can I get pregnant with PCOS?

While some women may experience success conceiving with just one treatment, most will find a combination of PCOS treatments are needed to increase fertility and get pregnant. The majority of women with PCOS will find success with these lower-tech treatments and will not need IVF.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle has a drastic affect on PCOS symptoms and management. Weight loss and regular exercise can decrease symptoms and increase fertility. Since PCOS affects the body’s ability to process insulin, it can also cause weight gain, which can affect a women’s ovulation. This unfortunate cycle can be broken with diet an exercise plans to lose weight and restart ovulation.

The effects of a healthy diet can be seen even before any weight is lost. Since PCOS is often associated with insulin resistance, a healthy diet can help manage your body’s processing and insulin production and reduce symptoms right away.

Clomid

Clomid is a drug that stimulates ovulation. It is the most common fertility drug used to treat PCOS and help couples conceive. If Clomid doesn’t work, your doctor may prescribe Letrozole (also known as Femera), another common fertility drug used to stimulate ovulation. Letrozole, which is actually a cancer drug, has shown to be more effective in treating PCOS in some women.

Metformin

Metformin is another common medication prescribed to women trying to get pregnant with PCOS. It regulates blood sugar and promotes insulin resistance in the body. The affects of Metformin, which is technically a diabetes medication, can help you lose weight and conceive. Metformin has been found to aid in weight loss, help restart ovulation and regular periods, increase effectiveness of certain fertility drugs and reduce instances of miscarriages.