PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a disorder of the female reproductive system which can lead to infertility or complications during pregnancy. When a woman suffers from PCOS, she is likely to have very light, irregular menstrual periods, or perhaps no periods at all. Whereas a healthy female reproductive system produces a mature egg once a month, the reproductive system of a PCOS sufferer produces very few mature eggs, or none at all. In a healthy woman, these eggs develop inside several follicles which grow on the ovary over the course of one menstrual cycle. One egg is eventually released when it reaches maturation. This egg moves down the fallopian tubes and into the uterus. If the egg is not fertilized, it is flushed out when a woman has her monthly period. In the case of a woman with PCOS, none of the ovaries' follicles get to the point of producing a mature egg. Therefore the woman experiences less bleeding or no bleeding at all at the time when she should have her monthly period.
Symptoms of PCOS include:
Irregular, light or absent menstrual bleeding
Excessive growth of body hair
Symptoms usually appear when a woman is in her late teens or early twenties. Some women may experience severe symptoms while others may realize they have PCOS only after they have been trying, and failing, to conceive for some time. If you have any of these symptoms and you are having difficulty getting pregnant, go see your doctor right away.
Causes of PCOS
Medical experts still don't know for certain what causes PCOS. It is thought, however, that the condition runs in families and that it's linked to insulin resistance, particularly in women who are overweight. (Insulin is the hormone produced by the body to regulate sugar levels in the blood. Women who are resistant to insulin have difficulty processing their blood sugar levels in a healthy way).
Women who suffer from PCOS are likely to experience reduced fertility precisely because PCOS stops ovulation (in many cases). If no egg is available for a woman's partner to fertilize, her chances of getting pregnant are obviously reduced. There are steps, however, which a PCOS sufferer can take to improve her chances. These steps include improvements in diet and lifestyle (weight loss in particular) and medical treatment in the form of drugs. One study has previously found that losing weight improves the menstrual cycles of 82 % of PCOS sufferers. Another study found that 11 of 12 women with PCOS have managed to conceive naturally after losing weight.
Unfortunately, when a woman who has PCOS succeeds in becoming pregnant, her PCOS does increase the chances that she will experience some kind of complications during the pregnancy. Pregnant women who have PCOS are more likely to develop gestational diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure) and pre-eclampsia. All of these are potentially serious medical conditions which, if not properly controlled, could pose a risk to the life of the baby and the mother. Women with PCOS are also more likely to miscarry or go into premature labor. They may also have over-sized babies. Although it is important to be aware of these risks, the news is not all bad. Many women with PCOS do go on to have successful pregnancies and become mothers. Close coordination and good communication with your doctor, as well as careful planning for pregnancy, are the key. Often, the steps which a PCOS sufferer will be advised to take to help her get pregnant in the first place (improving her lifestyle of losing weight, for example) are the very same steps that will boost her chances of a successful pregnancy.