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Home » Fertility & Health Information » Infertility in Women Overview » Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Key points of PCOS

  • PCOS is a common hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age and may cause multiple cysts to form on the ovaries.
  • It can cause excessive hair growth, irregular periods, infertility and other health problems.
  • Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise and proper diet can help women with PCOS.
  • Because of the hormonal imbalances due to PCOS, it can be difficult for those with this condition to get pregnant.
  • Ember offers fertility treatments including medications and in vitro fertilization (IVF) that can help those with PCOS-related infertility.

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What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects 6%-12% of women of reproductive age. It occurs when the ovaries produce too much androgen (male hormone) and not enough estrogen. This imbalance can cause the formation of small cysts on the ovaries, which can interfere with the release of eggs during ovulation. Ultimately, this can cause infertility in women.

Women with PCOS are also at a greater risk of high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, sleep apnea, depression, and anxiety, among others. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine reports that it is a complex condition that carries metabolic, reproductive and psychological issues.

Causes of PCOS

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it is believed to be related to insulin resistance, which can lead to high levels of insulin in the body. High levels of insulin can cause the ovaries to produce too much androgen, which can lead to PCOS.

Who does PCOS affect?

PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder in women, affecting an estimated 5 million women in the United States. All races and ethnicities are susceptible to polycystic ovary syndrome. It often begins soon after the first menstrual period, as young as age 11 or 12. It can also develop in the 20s or 30s.

Symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome

PCOS causes complex changes in hormonal glands in women, with varying effects on the body and/or reproductive cycle. It’s not uncommon for those with the condition to only find out they have it when seeking medical care after having trouble getting pregnant.

While women with PCOS will often experience different symptoms and a different number of symptoms, some of the more common ones are:

  • Irregular periods.
  • Heavy periods.
  • Excess hair growth (hirsutism).
  • Acne.
  • Weight gain.
  • Difficulty getting pregnant.
  • Depression and anxiety.

We have a thing for the small things

  • Our world-class clinic offers a welcoming, small-practice atmosphere and is designed for the patient, down to the smallest details that are fine-tuned for success.
  • We serve a smaller number of patients than other clinics so we can focus on quality time and care for each individual.
  • Our fertility doctor pays close attention to the details, and sees the patient at every visit.
  • Our IVF lab takes special care of embryos through the most advanced technology available.
  • We celebrate each little miracle born with Ember’s help.

Risks & side effects (if not treated)

If left untreated, PCOS can lead to long-term health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Because of the hormonal imbalances due to PCOS, it can be difficult for those with this condition to get pregnant. For those who do become pregnant, polycystic ovary syndrome brings with it other complications. Women are at higher risk for such complications during pregnancy as hypertension, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and miscarriage. Because they tend to have large-sized babies, women with the condition are more likely to have a cesarean delivery.

For these reasons, diagnosing and treating PCOS is important to achieving a successful pregnancy and birth.

Next steps: PCOS diagnosis and treatment

With proper diagnosis and treatment, most women with fertility problems due to this disease are able to get pregnant. If a patient suspects PCOS, she should talk to a fertility specialist. They can perform a physical exam, blood tests and an ultrasound to diagnose PCOS.

Diagnosing polycystic ovary syndrome

There is no specific test to diagnose the condition. A doctor makes a diagnosis based on several factors including the following:

  • A physical exam.
  • Blood test of hormone and/or glucose levels.
  • Ultrasound.
  • Patient history and symptoms (irregular periods, excess androgen and/or small cysts).

Related reading: fertility testing

PCOS treatment

Treatment for PCOS depends on the patient’s symptoms and goals. For example, if the goal is to get pregnant, that will affect the treatment options we provide.

Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and exercise, can help to improve symptoms. Medications, such as birth control pills and metformin, can also be used to regulate periods and improve insulin resistance. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove cysts or to induce ovulation.

For those hoping to get pregnant, a combination of lifestyle changes, medications and fertility treatment may achieve their goals. Our fertility specialist will discuss these treatment options with each patient.

Though IVF is the most successful treatment, it may be wise to try intrauterine insemination (IUI). IUI is an in-office procedure that places sperm directly in the cervix or uterus to promote pregnancy.

At Ember, our doctor can work to create a treatment plan that meets each patient’s unique situation and parenthood plans.

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