by Dr. Eric Levens
Almost daily, I get questions about polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and what the diagnosis means for fertility and overall health. PCOS remains the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age. It affects approximately 5 -10 percent of the population and consists of a group of symptoms.
In order to be diagnosed with PCOS, a woman must have two out of three findings:
- Enlarged ovaries with multiple resting follicles
- Increased male hormones in the blood, balding, acne, or excess hair growth
- Absent or irregular menstrual cycles.
It’s important to remember that no single criteria is sufficient to make the diagnosis.
How can PCOS affect me?
There are several important facets of PCOS to consider. The first has to deal with immediate fertility concerns. Other concerns include the long-term health consequences of PCOS and their impact on the health of a pregnancy. Today, we’ll focus on the fertility aspects.
Because the ovaries are not producing a follicle containing an egg each month (and sometimes no follicle is produced at all), without assistance, achieving a pregnancy can be very difficult, if not impossible. Oral fertility medications like clomiphene, which have been available for more than 50 years, continue to be widely used to produce an ovarian follicle containing an egg. Clomiphene acts by blocking the action of estrogen in the brain (the hypothalamus and pituitary). As a result, there is an increased production of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) causing the development of one or more follicles.
Timed intercourse or intrauterine insemination (IUI) can then be scheduled around the development of the follicle(s), provided that the Fallopian tubes are open and the sperm counts are normal. The typical chances for success are about 15 – 25 percent per cycle with higher chances among younger women and lower chances for older women. In the end, several treatment cycles may be required to achieve a pregnancy and, if this process is not successful, then moving on to another treatment such as injectable medications or IVF may be necessary.
I hope that this information helps you better understand PCOS and what’s required, for many women with this condition, to achieve pregnancy.