What is PCOS?
PCOS is a hormonal condition which affects about one in 10 women in their childbearing years. Women with PCOS have higher levels of insulin and androgens (male-type hormones) than other women. This hormonal imbalance can cause a range of symptoms and affect fertility.
Overall, women with PCOS have a similar number of children as women without PCOS.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
PCOS can cause
- irregular or no periods
- taking longer to fall pregnant
- increased risk of some pregnancy complications
- weight gain
- increased risk of diabetes
- excess hair growth on the face, stomach and back
- loss of hair on the top of the scalp
- acne (pimples)
How does PCOS affect fertility?
On average, women with PCOS take longer to fall pregnant than other women. This can be because they have irregular periods which means that they don’t ovulate every month. Also, being overweight reduces fertility and can contribute to women with PCOS taking longer to conceive. The good news is that through their life, women with PCOS have as many children as other women.
Although women with PCOS have more fertility problems than other women, they need reliable contraception to avoid unplanned pregnancy.
How can women with PCOS improve their chance of pregnancy?
Adopting a healthy lifestyle can improve the chance of a pregnancy and healthy baby. This includes being in the healthy weight range, not smoking, cutting back on alcohol, eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of regular exercise and getting enough sleep.
Women with very irregular or only sporadic periods may need medical help to have a baby. The first medical treatment prescribed is usually ovulation induction. This involves a course of tablets or injections to stimulate the ovaries to release an egg that can be fertilised, either during intercourse or through intra-uterine insemination (IUI).
If this doesn’t work, there may be other reasons why pregnancy can’t be achieved and more invasive treatments such as IVF may be needed.