Those with PCOS may suffer from all or some of the following:
- Abnormal or irregular menstrual cycles with very light or very heavy bleeding
- Excess weight with a high body mass index - many women with PCOS report gaining weight more easily
- A feeling of bloating and heaviness in the lower abdomen
- Areas of darker skin pigmentation
- Abnormal amounts of facial and body hair related to higher levels of androgens
PCOS accounts for approximately 40% of female infertility and is one of the leading causes. It is a complex metabolic disorder but two issues are common:
Male hormones are present in low levels in all women, but those with PCOS often have excessive levels in their blood. This is what causes increased facial and body hair but it can be associated with a lack of ovulation - stopping eggs from being released to meet with the sperm and form an embryo.
Insulin is needed to regulate blood sugar levels. With PCOS, however, the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin. This leads to higher insulin levels in the blood, which can also affect ovulation and therefore the ability to conceive.
The oral contraceptive pill can correct the hormonal imbalance of PCOS, but if the pill was commenced to manage irregular cycles and PCOS, poor ovulation and irregular periods usually come back when the pill is ceased. In other words, the pill doesn’t "cure" PCOS.
Many women with PCOS conceive naturally, successfully managing the syndrome by making changes to diet and exercise routines. In some cases, medical intervention is required and a range of fertility treatments can help with conception.
If you know or suspect that you have PCOS, consulting a doctor for review before trying to conceive is highly recommended.
The best way to resume ovulation is to have a body mass index in the healthy range (18.5-24.9), so weight loss should be the first priority for women who are overweight.
For those that have a healthy weight range but are not ovulating, fertility drugs such as clomiphene, letrozole and gonadotrophins may help ovulation.
There is also a surgical treatment called laparoscopic ovarian drilling, this will require a general anaesthetic.
For those struggling to conceive, there are a range of fertility treatments that can support conception if required.
When to seek help getting pregnant