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.
The Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation website provides a comprehensive range of information for women with PCOS and for health professionals, including:
- videos from experts on all aspects of PCOS
- information for women in easy to understand graphic formats
- podcasts from women with PCOS and from experts
- information about Victoria’s Statewide Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Service
Jean Hailes for Women’s Health is a not-for-profit Australian health promotion organisation that provides evidence-based PCOS information. Here you will find a very user-friendly downloadable booklet about PCOS. Multilingual resources are also available.
The Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association of Australia Inc (POSAA) was formed in 1998, by a group of Australian women who found each other on an American-based PCOS website. POSAA is a ‘self-help’ association for women with PCOS and those who suspect they have it. The Association brings together women, their families and friends, and medical professionals interested in supporting the group and PCOS patients.
The Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) provides independent information and support for individuals, couples and health professionals on fertility and issues related to assisted reproductive treatment.
- De Frène, V., et al. (2014). A retrospective study of the pregnancy, delivery and neonatal outcome in overweight versus normal weight women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Human Reproduction. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deu154.
- Greenwood, et al. (2016). Vigorous exercise is associated with superior metabolic profiles in polycystic ovary syndrome independent of total exercise expenditure. Fertility and Sterility, 105(2), 486-493. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2015.10.020
- Hart, R. J. (2016). Physiological Aspects of Female Fertility: Role of the Environment, Modern Lifestyle, and Genetics. Physiological Reviews, 96(3), 873-909. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00023.2015.
- Pasquali, R., et al. (2006). The impact of obesity on reproduction in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. BJOG, 113(10), 1148-1159.
Persson S, Elenis E, Turkmen S, Kramer MS, Yong EL, Sundström-Poromaa I. Fecundity among women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)—a population-based study. Hum Reprod 2019;34: 2052-2060.
- Teede, et al. (2018). Recommendations from the international evidence-based guideline for the assessment and management of polycystic ovary syndrome. Fertility and Sterility. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2018.05.004.