What you should know about PCOS and your fertility?

August 28, 2019 | Yesmom

Yes Mom

Top things to know

  • PCOS is a common condition faced by women of reproductive age
  • It is difficult to diagnose and is often not managed properly
  • The exact cause of ‘why’ PCOS develops is unknown, but there are both genetic and environmental factors that are often at play
  • PCOS, once diagnosed, is easy to manage and treat using lifestyle changes and medications

PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is one of the most common hormonal disorders faced by women of reproductive age. It is often hereditary and is characterised by irregularity in periods i.e frequent or prolonged menstrual bleeding along with high levels of hormones testosterone and androstenedione(called as androgens) in the blood. 

Apart from this, women with PCOS also have insulin resistance and risk factors for the development of other body conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The exact cause of PCOS is difficult to point out as it is caused by many factors.  However, it has been found to have a strong genetic component and variations in many genes have been linked to PCOS.

Apart from genetics, there are many other factors that can cause PCOS. These include:

  • Unhealthy lifestyle
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of or poor quality of sleep
  • Alcoholism and smoking
  • Increase in blood sugar levels which leads to an increase in the hormone testosterone
  • Resistance to insulin has been linked to weight gain and this causes PCOS

Apart from these symptoms that a woman faces, PCOS also has long term consequences on a woman’s health. Some of these include:

  • Increase in gynaecological complications 
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases
  • Sleep apnea
  • Depression

How does PCOS affect my fertility?

When we talk of PCOS, we presume that it only causes reproductive symptoms. But, it is not so! PCOS affects not just a woman’s reproductive health resulting in problems like infertility or irregular periods, but it also causes an increase in blood sugar and cholesterol levels, weight gain, acne etc.

One of the common ways how women get diagnosed with PCOS is when they visit their gynaecologists and obstetrician with problems or difficulties in conceiving naturally. In fact, PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility in women. 

In women, the level of hormones oestrogen and progesterone regulate ovulation and the overall menstrual cycle. At the time of ovulation, these hormones influence the ovaries to release the egg. Each month one of the two ovaries releases the egg.

But, in case of a woman who is suffering from PCOS, there is an imbalance in these hormones, which leads to an irregularity in the menstrual cycle. So, women either ovulate too often or after a long gap. In both cases, it becomes difficult to predict which is the most fertile period for the woman. This way PCOS affects fertility in women.

How many people have PCOS? 

Did you think you were the only one suffering from PCOS? Well, you are not! An estimated 6-10% of women worldwide suffer from this condition and this number has only gone up in the past few years due to an increased number of women opting to get diagnosed, having a poor lifestyle, and unhealthy dietary habits.

Due to the genetic link of development of this condition, it has been found that a woman with an affected mother or sister has a 20-40% chance of developing PCOS.

Do I have PCOS? The Signs and Symptoms

While not all irregular periods or prolonged bleeding is PCOS, it becomes essential to spot the symptoms that suggest you may be suffering from PCOS. Most women these days observe their symptoms and wonder “Do I have PCOS?”. Believe it or not, this has led to an increase in the number of diagnosed cases and successful treatments as well.

Some common symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Inability to conceive 
  • Increase in body weight- About 65% of women with PCOS show a significant increase in weight
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Thinning of hair or hair loss
  • Abnormal uterine bleeding
  • Early stages of diabetes
  • Increase in cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Acne
  • Growth of facial hair

Though these symptoms may all appear to be rather unrelated, in a woman with PCOS, they might hold the key to the diagnosis.

When you visit your healthcare provider, he/she will first take a complete health history from you, followed by a full-body examination. Both these activities will enable your doctor to determine whether there are excess androgens in your body by studying certain signs. Your doctor will also check your weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels to determine any significant changes in them.

The next step after these preliminary tests is performing an ultrasound to confirm if your ovaries have signs of being polycystic.

What can be done? (Diagnosing PCOS)

You will be surprised to know that there is no single test that can help diagnose PCOS. When you visit your gynaecologist for consultation, he/she may evaluate your signs, symptoms,  a physical test and a pelvic ultrasound to determine if you suffer from PCOS or not. Though there are many guidelines that your doctor may use to arrive at the diagnosis, your doctor will most likely diagnose PCOS from the following signs:

  • Irregular periods – so it’s a good idea to track your period and symptoms on an app like Yesmom’s Period & Ovulation Tracker  (links at the bottom)
  • blood test to check your hormone levels — especially your levels of male hormones like testosterone as well as AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone)
  • Ultrasound or a scan showing cystic ovaries

Apart from these, hormonal imbalances such as abnormal levels of hormones like LH and FSH (hormones that control the release of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) also give your doctor an indication about the diagnosis. Yesmom can help you test your hormonal levels to see if there are any irregularities.

How can you test for PCOS with Yesmom?

Yesmom’s fertility test is a comprehensive one that tests 8 hormones that keep your reproductive system functioning and healthy. By getting this test done, it can help you get a better idea about your menstrual irregularities, egg reserves, and track your fertility.

What are the next steps? (Treatment)

Once PCOS has been diagnosed, what next? Well, the treatment largely depends upon the primary cause of the condition in the woman and the symptoms she is suffering from since PCOS is a multifaceted condition( that affects the endocrine, reproductive and metabolic systems), and each woman can present with a different combination of symptoms.

Once PCOS has been diagnosed by your healthcare provider, most often the treatment protocol involves lifestyle changes and medications. The most pressing complaints of a patient with PCOS such as infertility, anovulation, irregular menses, acne, weight gain, increase in facial hair etc., are resolved first. 

At the same time, the underlying cause of the PCOS in the woman is resolved either by making changes in her diet and lifestyle or by prescribing certain medications.

One of the first things your healthcare provider will advise you is to lose weight. Losing weight has been linked to increased fertility in women. Medications prescribed by your doctor are generally hormonal pills, including birth control pills, that help balance the hormonal levels in the body and reduce the levels androgens. 

When the androgens in the body reduce, complaints of growing facial hair, baldness etc., get resolved. Also, an increase in the levels of hormones estrogen and progesterone help induce ovulation, reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and restore normalcy in the body of the woman. 

So, in order to successfully get treated for PCOS, it is advised that a woman should cut down on her carbohydrate consumption, follow a strict diet and take the necessary medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider. Taking our Yesmom Fertility Test that can help you and your doctor manage PCOS better.