PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) is a medical condition that affects many women of childbearing age. Women with PCOS can get pregnant, but some cases can result in infertility. The condition is one of the top reasons women visit infertility clinics and requires prompt diagnosis to determine the best treatment. PCOS affects fertility differently, mainly through hormonal imbalances that make ovulation and implantation impossible.
What Is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition stemming from the imbalances of female reproductive hormones. Women rely on hormonal changes to stimulate the follicles to release mature eggs every month. Hormones like estrogen stimulate the follicles to produce a mature egg, which is then released during ovulation. Hormonal imbalances affect this process and can result in delayed, irregular, or lack of ovulation. Hormonal issues can include an abnormal surge of testosterone levels. Testosterone is a male hormone that women have in small amounts. A higher level may suppress female hormones required to stimulate ovulation. Without regular ovulation, women can find it challenging to get pregnant. Even if an egg is released, the uterus may not be ready for implantation.
In the United States, about 1 in 10 women between 15 and 44 years have PCOS. The condition is treatable, so you can still get pregnant despite having PCOS. You should speak to your doctor about a comprehensive diagnosis for PCOS if you have unexplained infertility.
3 Ways PCOS Affects Fertility
Polycystic ovary syndrome impacts women’s fertility in various ways, depending on the individual. Having PCOS doesn’t mean you won’t get pregnant, but the condition can interfere with your natural cycles. PCOS causes hormonal imbalances that interfere with the growth and release of mature eggs from your ovaries. Here are three ways PCOS affects fertility in women of childbearing age:
1. Preventing Ovulation
The primary way PCOS affects fertility is through its negative influences on ovulation. Women need to ovulate to get pregnant. Ovulation is the process of releasing mature eggs from the ovaries. The process occurs monthly, aided by the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
A balance between these hormones is fundamental to successful ovulation. PCOS impacts hormone levels, creating imbalances. If a hormone that signals the follicles to release eggs is low, no egg will be available for fertilization. PCOS can cause irregular ovulation or halt the process altogether, making it impossible to conceive even with regular intercourse.
2. Preventing Implantation
Implantation is the process by which fertilized eggs attach to the walls of the uterus. The uterine wall becomes thick with endometrial cells, mucus, and other developments to catch the traveling egg after fertilization. If implantation doesn’t happen correctly, the embryo will struggle to develop securely in the womb.
PCOS changes hormone levels that affect how the uterine walls develop and prepare for implantation. Even if the ovaries release a healthy mature egg and fertilization occurs, the embryo won’t fully implant. Your fertility doctor can help you increase or lower specific hormones to improve the chances of successful ovulation and implantation.
3. Increasing Risk of Other Diseases
PCOS is linked to various diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, and endometrial cancer. Doctors don’t know whether PCOS causes such conditions, if the diseases cause PCOS, or if they correlate for other reasons. Whatever the case, such conditions aren’t good for ovulation and pregnancy.
Diabetes, depression, and endometrial cancer are linked to infertility. Medications used to treat such conditions may also cause further hormonal changes, making it harder to achieve regular ovulation. If you’re diagnosed with PCOS alongside such ailments, your doctor may recommend comprehensive treatment for the underlying conditions.
Working With Leading Infertility Clinics
PCOS is a leading treatable cause of infertility in women of childbearing age. If you’re diagnosed with the condition, your doctor will customize treatment to help you restore hormonal balance. Treatment may include fertility medications to help you ovulate. Your doctor may also recommend assisted reproductive technologies like IVF.
Women with undiagnosed infertility should seek professional help early. Working with the best infertility clinics is the only way to navigate this challenging period. Find a reputable clinic with experienced fertility doctors that can treat PCOS. Many women with PCOS end up giving birth to healthy babies after treatment.