Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome—more commonly known as PCOS—is hardly an unheard of health issue these days, affecting approximately one in 10 women of childbearing age. Women who are diagnosed with PCOS experience a wide range of symptoms, from irregular periods to to acne and weight gain.
One of the most common symptoms women with PCOS hear about, though, is that whenever they’re ready to get pregnant, it might not exactly be easy for them. Because PCOS causes a hormonal imbalance in the body, it can make regular ovulation (and periods) difficult to maintain, which makes conception tough.
Whether or not you’re ready to start a family (or maybe you’re not sure you want one at all), the idea that you have a health condition that may make it difficult can be daunting, not to mention a little depressing. But here’s the good news: the majority of women with PCOS go on to get pregnant with minimal intervention, so before you resign yourself to a future of needles and fertility treatments, here are some important PCOS-related fertility facts to keep in mind.
The fertility issues around PCOS are actually very treatable.
First things first: A PCOS diagnosis doesn’t mean you have a low egg reserve, low quality eggs, an abnormally shaped uterus, or many of the other things associated with infertility. The main issue with PCOS is your menstrual cycle. “PCOS is associated with insulin resistance, elevated insulin levels and increased production of androgens, also known as male hormones,” explains Nicole Noyes, MD and chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Northwell Health. “These factors can cause issues with ovulation or failure to ovulate at all, making it more difficult to conceive.”
For that reason, someone with PCOS diagnosis typically has one specific thing to target: Ovulating every month and getting a regular period. So if you can find a solution to that aspect of it, you’ll be in good shape. “A reproductive endocrinologist can help people with PCOS understand what might be impacting their cycle and recommend treatments accordingly to regulate ovulation,” says Noyes.
If you’re worried about PCOS and your fertility, start taking action now.
One thing that’s important to note? If you have a PCOS diagnosis but you’re also getting regular periods, you may not have any issues getting pregnant at all—in fact, 30 percent of women with PCOS don’t. But if your periods or wacky or you’re simply feeling worried about how PCOS may impact your chances of getting pregnant down the road, talk to a doctor about it. They’ll likely suggest you start implementing a few lifestyle changes as a first step. “Health care providers can recommend lifestyle adjustments like a cleaner diet or regular exercise, which might help manage the symptoms of PCOS contributing to infertility,” Noyes explains.
It’s also worth talking through what treatment options might look like, especially if that helps ease any fertility-related anxiety. You can always download an app or try an at-home ovulation kit to try to get an idea of whether or not you’re ovulating regularly, but talking to a professional can be helpful as well. “Speaking to a reproductive endocrinologist about steps to regulate periods can be useful, regardless of whether pregnancy may be three, five, or 10 years away,” Noyes says. “During the appointment, the physician can also provide education on the various fertility treatment options available, such as using ovulation-boosting medications or even IVF. Doing so might ease concerns and help a person feel better prepared.”
In Noyes’ opinion, getting ahead of any fertility issues that may pop up, PCOS diagnosis or not, is probably a good idea. “I think it’s important for everyone to be more educated about fertility,” she explains. “We’re told for so long to focus on not getting pregnant, then when the time comes to conceive, many people are surprised when it’s not so simple. I encourage anyone over the age of 25 to start asking their OB-GYN about fertility, and whether there’s any cause for concern or reason to assess it further.”
It’s never a bad idea to be prepared, but if you’d rather not spend your pre-child bearing years obsessing about your fertility, that’s probably OK too. Even with a PCOS diagnosis, the odds of conception are in your favor—so try not to worry too much.