Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common problem among women in their childbearing years. It can also happen to girls as young as 11 years old. Almost 5 million women in United States are affected with polycystic ovaries. Research is still on to find the exact cause behind polycystic ovaries. PCOs can throw a spanner to your attempts to become pregnant. However, it is possible to become pregnant even if you have polycystic ovaries. Since, polycystic ovaries can be prevented by making lifestyle changes and can be treated with medicines. So there is a solution and hope for those who suffer from PCOS.
You must have a lot of questions buzzing around in your mind and may not find the answer you are looking for. The first question that comes to your mind is why polycystic ovaries actually happen.
Causes of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome:
Some genetic factors are behind polycystic ovaries. If your mother had polycystic ovaries there are high chances that you will have polycystic ovaries also. The underlying factor behind polycystic ovaries is hormonal imbalance. Women with polycystic ovaries produce excessive amounts of androgens or human male hormones that interfere with the release of egg during the ovulation process.
Some researchers state that insulin is linked to polycystic ovarian syndrome. The Insulin hormone helps to convert the sugar and starches and other food into energy for the body to store. If the body can’t utilize the amount of insulin secreted or if there is over secretion of insulin then the female body starts to produce androgens. The high levels of androgens can trigger:
- Facial hair growth
- Weight gain
- Ovulation disorders
However the exact reason behind polycystic ovaries are unknown and more study needs to throw some light in this area to make treatment possible.
What is PCOS?
Dr. Jesse Hade, medical director at Neway Fertility in New York City tells Fox News: “PCOS is an endocrine disorder where women don’t ovulate on a regular basis. It’s usually characterized by having multiple little follicles in the ovaries that appear on ultrasound, or having irregular periods, coupled with elevated male hormone levels, or elevated androgen levels.”
If you are overweight or obese, it could be harder for you to conceive. This is because being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome. This is a condition that is associated with your reproductive system and makes it difficult for you to get pregnant.
While doctors are still unsure about the exact causes of PCOS, they do know that the condition develops due to high levels of insulin, which, in turn, causes your ovaries to produce more than normal amounts of androgens, which are male hormones.
How PCOS Affect Menstrual Cycle and Fertility:
The ovary is comprised of tiny fluid filled sacs called follicles or cysts. As the eggs develop there is fluid buildup inside the follicles. Once the egg matures the follicle breaks open and the egg is released. The egg travels to the fallopian tube and then it reaches the uterus to get fertilized. This is the normal ovulation process.
In women with PCOS, the reproductive system does not produce hormones required for the egg to mature. The follicles start to grow and the fluid builds up but the ovulation does not happen. As a result some follicles remain in the ovaries as cysts. Since ovulation doesn’t occur the hormone progesterone is not produced and without progesterone the menstrual cycle becomes irregular or totally absent. Ovaries also make male hormones or androgens which disrupts the normal ovulation period.
Does PCOS Change During Menopause?
PCOS affect other systems in the body. Though there are hormonal changes and ovarian function changes as women near menopause but the symptoms persists. There are excessive hair growth in face, chest, back and abdomen. Thinning of hair and male pattern of baldness continues during menopause and sometimes become worse.
PCOS can also cause other health complications like diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.
What Increases The Risk of PCOS?
It is difficult to prevent PCOs if it is in your genes. You can’t help it if your family history is responsible for PCOs. In addition to this if you have diabetes, you are obese and have irregular menstrual cycle there is increased risk of PCOS.
Also having a seizure medicine called valproate such as Depakote can cause PCOS.
Complications Associated With PCOS:
If polycystic ovaries are not treated in the right time then it can cause complications like:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- High Blood Pressure
- Cholesterol and Lipid Abnormalities. Increase in triglycerides and low high density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol. This cause cardiovascular problem.
- Elevate d levels of C – reactive protein which is a cardiovascular disease marker.
- Metabolic Syndrome that also cause cardiovascular problems
- Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis: This is an acute inflammation in the liver due to excess fat accumulation.
- Sleep Apnea
- Abnormal Uterine Bleeding
- Cancer of the lining of the uterus, it is called endometrial cancer. This is caused by the overexposure of high levels of estrogen.
- Gestational Diabetes or pregnancy induced high blood pressure
- Ectopic Pregnancy: Women with PCOs have a risk of developing ectopic pregnancy and other birth complications. Ectopic pregnancy happens when the embryo implants itself in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. This can cause the fallopian tubes to burst and also cause miscarriage. Ectopic pregnancy is both dangerous for mother and child.
PCOS and Obesity:
Those women who are affected with PCOs generally have diabetes too. This is because when the insulin secreted in the body can’t convert the sugar and starches into energy then there is an increase in the blood sugar levels, thus causing diabetes. PCOs create a domino effect.
Since high levels of androgens triggered by insulin cause abnormal hair growth, acne and weight gain. Since the weight gain is triggered by androgens the fat tends to accumulate in the abdomen. The abdomen fat is very dangerous as it increases the risk of heart disease. Also the increase of fat in abdomen changes the equilibrium and women who suffer from PCOs have a pear shaped body structure. Pear shaped structure means the fat gets accumulated in the waist and below the hips.
Actually PCOs can change the way you look, but take heart it can be cured. You need to make lifestyle changes like you need to become active and exercise more regularly. Also stop alcohol and smoking to curb weight.
PCOS and Pregnancy:
A healthy woman’s body produces some amount of male hormones, but when the levels of these hormones rise, they interfere with normal reproductive functions, including menstruation and ovulation. As a result, it becomes difficult for the woman to get pregnant.
This said, there are chances of getting pregnant with polycystic ovaries provided there is regular menstruation and ovulation.
Symptoms and Signs of PCOS:
There are several signs of PCOS and the symptoms can be mild or severe. Some of the signs are as follows:
- Irregular or absent periods
- Heavy bleeding from the vagina.
- Under normal circumstances, two weeks after you ovulate, the ovaries produce progesterone. Thereafter, progesterone levels fall and the uterus lining sheds, resulting in menstrual periods. If you do not ovulate, the uterus lining gets thick, a condition known as hyperplasia, and you can get extremely heavy and prolonged bleeding as a result.
- Oily skin / Acne
- Darkening / thickening of skin in certain areas, particularly in the folds of your groin, armpits and neck
- Excessive hair growth on the thighs, abdomen, chest and face
- Type 2 diabetes
- Thinning of hair on the crown of your head
- High cholesterol levels
- Cardiovascular problems
- Large number of cysts on your ovaries which will be visible during ultrasound
Diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome:
How will you understand that you have polycystic ovaries? An accurate diagnosis of PCOS is essential, and earlier the better. Based on the diagnosis the treatment of polycystic ovaries takes place. If you are confirmed with PCOS don’t lose faith since there is a solution.
The methods to detect polycystic ovarian syndrome are:
- Medical History:
The doctor will ask you about the pattern of your menstrual cycle and whether you are facing any of the symptoms like excessive bleeding from the vagina, cramps in the lower abdomen, acne and hair fall or hair thinning. Observe the changes in your body carefully and give accurate answers to all your queries.
- Physical Exam:
Your doctor will measure your blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and waist size. He will also check the areas of abnormal hair growth.
- Pelvic Exam:
The doctor will check whether your ovaries are swollen with small number of cysts. He will check the whether there is an increase in the number of cysts.
- Blood Test:
Through the blood tests the doctor will check the levels of androgen or male hormone and blood glucose levels.
- Vaginal Ultrasounds (Sonogram):
This test is done by using sound waves to capture images of the pelvic area. This pictures help to detect whether there are any cysts in your ovaries and whether the walls of your uterus have thickened. The walls of the uterus thickens when you don’t have regular menstrual cycle, this condition is called endometriosis.
PCOS and Pregnancy – Treating PCOS in Order To Conceive
The best way to treat PCOS if you want to conceive is to lose weight. You should eat healthy and perform regular exercise to get your body mass index between 18.5 and 25. If you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes because of PCOS, you would have to take medication to reduce your insulin levels. This could result in ovulation.
In case you are not obese or overweight and still do not ovulate, the doctor may prescribe fertility drugs, like gonadotropins and clomiphene, which can induce ovulation. He can also prescribe metformin to regularize your menstrual cycle.He will also give birth control pills to reduce the symptoms of PCOS that are troubling you. You need to follow up and make sure the treatment is working. Also monitor your blood sugar levels and blood pressure regularly.
It will take time for the medicines to work on the excessive hair growth.You can ask your doctor he will give you a better solution. For acne you can use over the counter medicines to reduce it. You can also use natural ingredients like aloe vera and neem to reduce acne.
You also should consult your doctor about laparoscopic ovarian drilling. This is a surgical procedure which can result in ovulation if you have PCOS, but you would have to take general anesthesia for the procedure.
If you feel depressed about PCOS its better you talk to a counselor or a close friend who experienced this condition.
It is important to remember there is no permanent cure for PCOS. Usually, your symptoms would be treated based on your goals. Hence, if you are trying to conceive, the doctor will try to induce regular ovulation using a wide variety of treatment options.
Tips to Get Pregnant, Even with PCOS:
It is certainly a challenge whether is it possible to get pregnant with
PCOS, but there are ways to overcome this challenge. Here are some valuable tips that will help you get pregnant even if you have been diagnosed with PCOS.
1. Diet Change:
It is important to switch over to a PCOS-friendly diet if you want to conceive. This means consuming fresh fruits, whole wheat, beans, nuts and fresh veggies. You also should be looking to cut down your intake of processed foods as well as foods that are high in saturated fats. Avoid consuming meats, cheese, milk and fried foods. Reduce your intake of carbohydrates and sugar, as it will help you lose weight and also work towards normalizing your hormone levels.
If you want to reduce those excess pounds you are carrying and spur ovulation, it is best to begin leading an active lifestyle if you haven’t been doing it. Exercising will also release endorphins, which are feel good hormones. They reduce your stress levels and help you feel happy. When you lose weight, it will increase the chances of ovulation and also improve your menstrual cycle. Exercising regularly can normalize your insulin and glucose levels and this helps to regularize your menstrual cycle.
3. Healthy Lifestyle:
Smoking and drinking with PCOS will greatly hamper your pregnancy goals. Quit smoking and reduce your alcohol consumption. If you tend to experiment with recreational drugs, now would be the best time to stop this experimentation.
You may be yearning to get pregnant, but your PCOS could be posing a huge obstacle in fulfilling this desire. This can cause you to get stressed and anxious about your health. Stress also can trigger PCOS. So, just relax and try to de-stress. Cultivate a hobby or treat yourself to regular spa treatments to relax and rejuvenate your body and mind. Taking time off from your daily routine can help you relax.
Making a few lifestyle changes and maintaining healthy habits can go a long way when you have PCOS and want to get pregnant. You also should consult a doctor and maintain a positive outlook to live. These few measures will help you not only overcome your condition, but also in getting pregnant successfully.
Boosting Your Chances of Conception
Celebrities such as Emma Thompson and Victoria Beckham have PCOS, but have gone on to enjoy the joys of motherhood. So, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to conceive just because you have PCOS. You certainly can. All you need to do is give yourself better chances of getting pregnant. Here are some ways of improving your chances of successful conception.
- Maintain healthy weight by making healthy food choices and exercising regularly. Avoid eating excessive intake of restaurant food; feast on home-cooked and preferably organic food, as much as possible.
- Invest in an ovulation prediction kit to figure out when you are ovulating, so that you can have sexual intercourse on those days
- Try making love two to three times a week regardless of whether you are ovulating or not. This will help maintain sperm quality and also do away with the stress of checking for ovulation making love just when you ovulate
- See lovemaking as a way to connect with your partner and do not keep it just for the days you are ovulating.
Ways to Prevent PCOS:
In most cases, PCOS tends to run in families. While it is not possible to prevent PCOS from developing, you can take steps to maintain healthy weight if there is PCOS in your family. Also, you should go for regular checkups, especially if you are trying to conceive, so that the condition is diagnosed early and doctors can advise you about how to treat it. This will greatly enhance your chances of getting pregnant.
If you have irregular menstrual periods or you find that your periods disappear for months together, it is best to immediately consult your doctor for a pelvic ultrasound and other tests.
The Way Forward:
- The first thing you should do is try and stay mellow and relaxed. If you get stressed, it will further hinder your chances of getting pregnant. Also, speak to your gynecologist about starting prenatal vitamins. These will boost your health and also increase your fertility odds. In addition, take care of your diet.
- Try to steer clear of natural treatments and herbs, as they do not go well with fertility drugs that your doctor may put you on. Also, educate yourself about your condition and learn how you can boost your chances of getting pregnant with PCOS.
- For many women with PCOS pregnancy can be a long struggle, but this does not mean there is no hope. In fact, there are so many stories of women successfully conceiving with PCOS not once but multiple times. Read these stories to get hope and strength to fulfill your dream of motherhood. Remember, while there is hope, there always is a way.
- Thanks to modern medicine, these days even women with PCOS can get pregnant and have babies. Just relax and take one day at a time. You will be amazed how relaxing and de-stressing yourself, along with regular physical activity and healthy lifestyle can make a huge difference to the symptoms of PCOS.
If you do get pregnant with PCOS, you are advised to be vigilant of your health, as you will be a high risk of getting gestational diabetes as well as pregnancy-related blood pressure. Take care of your health and follow your OB-GYN’s instructions religiously. At the end of those wonderful nine months, you will be able to hold your bundle of joy and will become an inspiration to so many other women who are trying to conceive and get pregnant with PCOS.
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