Jenny is thin, and while she has irregular periods, she has clear skin and normal body hair. Sarah on the other hand is overweight, has acne and thinning hair. These two women have two things in common: both women are having a hard time getting pregnant and both have been diagnosed with an endocrine disorder known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). While PCOS can show up at any age, many women do not realize they have it until they are are struggling to get pregnant.
In spite of the name, women do not necessarily have cysts on their ovaries if they have PCOS. Common physical symptoms of PCOS include acne, weight gain and thinning/balding hair and hair in unwanted places such as around the nipples and lip line. The reverse is true as well, just because a woman has cysts on their ovaries, they do not necessarily have PCOS. To be diagnosed with PCOS women need to meet 2 out of 3 criteria:
- Elevated males sex hormones
- Irregular or absent periods
- At least 12 follicular cysts on one or both ovaries.
In the past, doctors thought of PCOS as an infertility problem and/or a cosmetic annoyance. Today, the health professional community has realized that if left untreated, there can be serious long-term health complications (source). Due to the hormonal imbalances, women with PCOS are more susceptible to certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
It's important for women with PCOS to get treated to ovulate regularly whether or not they are trying to get pregnant. This will help to prevent certain types of cancer. It's also important to manage your blood glucose levels to either treat or prevent Type 2 diabetes.
If you have PCOS or suspect that you do, September is PCOS Awareness Month and is a good time to make sure that you have access to the right information and resources. In this blog post we will address PCOS and fertility.
Here are 5 Steps you Can Take to Improve Fertility with PCOS:
Lose Body Fat:
Enhance your fertility: Losing weight is SO much easier said than done! Weight loss is hard in general, but even more so if you have PCOS. Meet with your doctor or an endocrine specialist on the best plan to help you lose weight safely and effectively.
It's worth it - just a 5% body fat reduction can be enough to restore ovulation.
Healthier Pregnancy & Baby:
Weight loss also has been shown to help lower both insulin and androgen levels in more than 75% of patients. Both you and your baby will be healthier if you have a normal blood range of insulin (source).
Exercise will help with reducing blood glucose levels and weight loss. Exercise can also help to reduce stress. Do a combination of cardiovascular and weightlifting for the best results.
For example, add walking/running/swimming/yoga for 45 minutes 3-5 times a week and weightlifting 2 times a week.
If you sit often during the week, it's essential that you stand up and move multiple times throughout the day even if you exercise in the morning or evening. Set a timer to stand up, stretch and walk around every hour to hour and a half.
Use methods to find out if you are ovulating or not and time intercourse during your fertile window. If it's not too stressful for your schedule, you can take your basal body temperature every morning to find a rise in temperature to indicate ovulation as well as monitor your cervical mucus. If you are worried that you are not ovulating or your period is irregular, talk to your health care professional.
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It tends to take women with PCOS longer to get pregnant because they do not ovulate as often. For example, a woman without PCOS may ovulate 12 times in a year and a woman with PCOS may ovulate 8 times in a year.
If you have been trying for over a year, don't forget to check your partner's sperm before undergoing treatment. Once you know your partner's sperm is viable, you can talk to your doctor about medications such as Clomid that will help you to ovulate.
Find Support & Education:
There is no need to face having PCOS on your own. Joining a support group can help you feel less isolated and provide education on the latest treatments. Soul Cysters is an example of a group to join for a community of support.