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PCOS and Fertility: Everything You Need to Know

Sep 01, 2023
PCOS and Fertility: Everything You Need to Know
About 5-6 million women of childbearing age have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common cause of infertility. Learn about symptoms, risk factors, and treatments to help you conceive here.

There are many potential causes of fertility, including living with a health condition such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, smoking, and even lack of adequate nutrients. 

Another condition that 7-10% of women of childbearing age — about 5-6 million — is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormone disorder that causes small cysts filled with fluid to develop on the outer edges of the ovaries. PCOS is the most frequently seen cause of infertility. 

The expert and compassionate provider team at Southdale OB/GYN has vast experience treating PCOS and offers help for women struggling with infertility and its many other causes. When we diagnose PCOS, we create a personalized treatment plan to help you become pregnant despite this roadblock.

September is PCOS Awareness Month, so it’s a perfect time to raise understanding about this condition. 

The facts — and challenges of PCOS

The root cause of PCOS is that your endocrine system produces a surplus of androgens, which are male hormones that women typically have, but in much lower amounts. Research has also shown that insulin resistance (when your cells don’t respond properly to insulin) and elevated insulin levels contribute to higher amounts of androgen. 

Other risk factors for PCOS are obesity and having a sister or mother with PCOS.

In addition to ovarian cysts and fertility problems, other troubling symptoms that PCOS causes include:

  • Irregular, missed, or extremely light periods
  • Excessive body hair
  • Thinning hair on your head
  • Weight gain, especially in the abdomen
  • Oily skin or acne
  • Skin tags
  • Dark skin patches in places like under the breasts and armpits

If you have been trying to conceive but haven’t yet, and you’ve noticed some or all of these symptoms, it’s time to talk to your Southdale OB/GYN physician about getting tested for PCOS. 

However, another challenge with PCOS is that you can easily attribute many symptoms to other issues, such as acne, period irregularity, and weight fluctuations. This misdiagnosis contributes to the fact that over half of the women with PCOS aren’t even aware they have it. 

When you have PCOS, the cysts hold follicles or immature eggs, but the eggs aren’t released as they would be if you didn’t have this fertility problem.

If we suspect PCOS, we advise testing your hormone levels and possibly a follicular ultrasound, a series of vaginal ultrasounds that examine if and when you ovulate.

Are there treatments available for women with PCOS?

Fortunately, we have effective treatments for PCOS and infertility. Although the condition isn’t curable, it is treatable. We recommend various medications depending on your circumstances.

Traditionally, physicians prescribed Clomid for PCOS, but now the treatment favored by most OB/GYNs is letrozole, known as Femara, which addresses the hormonal imbalance that defines PCOS. 

Gonadotropins contain hormones that help stimulate egg production, while another medication, bromocriptine, helps with lowering androgen levels and helps to restore normal ovulation. 

Finally, a diabetes medication called Metformin stimulates ovulation, lowers androgen levels, and aids weight loss. 

Your Southdale OB/GYN may talk about lifestyle factors that can help you conceive, such as weight loss if you’re overweight or obese and smoking cessation. 

When warranted, we also refer PCOS patients to fertility specialists and reproductive endocrinologists, and we collaborate with them to provide complete care.

You’re in the best hands at Southdale OB/GYN if you wonder if your infertility is linked to PCOS or if you know it is. We support you every step of the way in your fertility treatment journey and your dream of becoming a mother.

Call our Burnsville or Edina, Minnesota, office to schedule an appointment, or book one with us online.