What you need to know about PCOS
For some couples it can take longer than expected to start a family. If you’re struggling to conceive it’s important to be aware of conditions that can affect your fertility and seek help sooner rather than later.
One in six Australian couples will face some sort of fertility challenge. While the reasons for infertility are not always identified, there are medical conditions that can impact your chances of conceiving – one of the most common of which is Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome – or PCOS.
You may not have heard of PCOS, but it’s not uncommon, affecting five per cent of women and often going undiagnosed.
The symptoms can include irregular or absent periods, abnormal amounts of facial and body hair, acne or scalp hair loss. Many women with PCOS also have a higher body mass index, but there are many women with a normal or low weight that have the syndrome.
Whilst doctors aren’t 100 per cent sure what causes PCOS, it is thought to be associated with an excess production of androgens, or male-type hormones in the ovaries, as well as a raised level or dysfunction of the hormone insulin.
Genea fertility specialist Dr Katrina Rowan often sees women with the syndrome.
“The oral contraceptive pill corrects some of the hormone imbalances of PCOS, so lots of my patients don’t know they have the syndrome until they come off contraception to start a family,” she explains.
Unfortunately, PCOS affects some women’s ability to conceive. Ovulation disorders such as PCOS account for 40 per cent of female infertility. The main way that PCOS affects fertility is through irregular or absent ovulation – that is, the eggs are not released to meet with sperm.
But, the good news is, just because you have PCOS doesn’t mean you can’t conceive – take inspiration from celebrity mums like Victoria Beckham, Emma Thompson and Jools Oliver, who have all been reported as having suffered with the syndrome.
“If you have any of the symptoms, particularly if you are trying to get pregnant, discuss PCOS with your GP or gynaecologist ,” Dr Rowan recommends.
If you are trying to conceive with PCOS and are overweight, the first step is usually to try to lose weight. As little as 5 per cent weight loss can restore fertility. If this is ineffective, or if your BMI is already normal, there is a range of fertility treatments available, from tablets, to injections or IVF if there are any other fertility problems.
“The earlier PCOS is diagnosed, the more quickly we can help to treat the problem, and the more chance you have of one day taking home a healthy baby,” Dr Rowan adds.
Read more from Dr Rowan here