Facts about polycystic syndrome and how it can affect pregnancy
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder, with 10% of women experiencing PCOS in their childbearing years according to the Office on Women’s Health. The syndrome causes several symptoms, which range from annoying to health-threatening. PCOS is also associated with trouble becoming pregnant as well as complications during pregnancy.
Below, you’ll find information about PCOS symptoms, causes, and working with your OB-GYN to reduce health effects and increase your chances of conception.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is primarily a disorder of the endocrine system, the bodily system responsible for hormone production. Specifically, women with PCOS have ovaries that overproduce androgens, which are male sex hormones. Healthy ovaries normally produce a limited amount of androgens, just as men’s bodies produce some female sex hormones. However, in PCOS, androgen production is higher than normal.
What are the Causes and Risk Factors of PCOS?
Research into PCOS continues, and the causes and risk factors are not completely clear. Factors that may increase the likelihood of developing PCOS include:
- Increased insulin levels: Doctors do know that excess insulin may contribute to PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar levels. If your body produces too much insulin in an effort to bring down high blood sugar, this may be a cause of PCOS.
- Inflammation: Low-level inflammation of the ovaries may be a factor for developing PCOS. Research concludes that women living with PCOS have a low-grade inflammation occurrence that stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce more androgen hormones.
- Hereditary: The Mayo Clinic also states that PCOS may also have a hereditary component. If any blood-related relatives, such as your mother or aunt, have PCOS, the risk of you developing it may increase.
- Weight: Obesity appears to be both a risk factor and a symptom of PCOS, as well.
In fact, between 40-80% of women living with PCOS are considered overweight or obese.
What are the Symptoms of PCOS?
Menstrual irregularity is the chief symptom of PCOS. You may experience sporadic menstrual periods, abnormally heavy periods, or extended periods that last longer than normal. This menstrual irregularity is often the result of abnormal ovulation, meaning your ovaries are not producing eggs normally.
As mentioned, excess androgen is another PCOS sign. Elevated production of male sex hormones can lead to acne, excess facial and body hair, and thinning hair on the scalp. In severe cases, you may even experience a form of male pattern baldness.
Polycystic ovaries are another common occurrence. This term means that your ovaries may be enlarged and dysfunctional. As you might expect, these problems can interfere with your fertility and make pregnancy difficult.
Complications Caused by PCOS
There are also several possible long-term complications of PCOS. These complications include obesity, type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver, high cholesterol, and endometrial cancer.
PCOS carries obstetric consequences beyond impaired fertility. Women with PCOS have a greater likelihood of certain pregnancy complications, including miscarriage, preterm delivery, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes. In fact, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development warns that expectant mothers with PCOS are three times more likely to miscarry in the early months of their pregnancies than women without PCOS.
Can You Get Pregnant if You Have PCOS?
Despite abnormal ovulation and irregular periods, most women with PCOS can still become pregnant. However, it typically takes longer to achieve conception than for women without the syndrome, and fertility treatments may be necessary. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS and want to become pregnant, it is crucial that you inform your OB-GYN and work together with your healthcare team.
Depending on the specifics of your case, your OB-GYN may recommend medication to treat your PCOS and the symptoms caused by the syndrome. For example, your doctor might prescribe medications to help stimulate your ovaries, control your blood sugar, lower your blood pressure, etc. Your physician may also advise lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise if you are overweight. Making these changes is vital, as even a modest weight reduction can make a big difference in your fertility and overall health.
Finally, you may need a referral to a fertility specialist if conception continues to prove elusive. Your OB-GYN is an excellent source for this referral, as well as for advice throughout your pregnancy journey.
Tell your OB-GYN right away if you have any symptoms of PCOS, even if you are not interested in becoming pregnant. PCOS is a potentially serious disease, but it is also manageable as long as you keep your healthcare team up to date and follow their advice and recommendations.
About the Connecticut OBGYN Practice
Dr. John Garofalo, M.D. is a CT OBGYN based in Fairfield County, providing care for Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Weston, Rowayton and the surrounding areas. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.
Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Women undergoing signs and symptoms of menopause can make an appointment with Laury for Hormone Replacement Therapy. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s health care in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.