How PCOS Affects Fertility and Reproductive Health
In 2018, the U.S. Senate designated September as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month. Among the most common causes of female infertility, this designation, sponsored by the National Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association, is crucial for the women afflicted. Besides helping to improve lives, this special commemoration enables patients to overcome their symptoms and prevent risks of serious related diseases. Learn how this condition may affect your reproductive health and fertility.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: An Overview
An incurable, lifelong, hormonal condition, PCOS involves multiple cysts (small fluid-filled sacs) developing along your ovary’s outer edges. It’s thought to affect about 8–13% of reproductive-aged women across the globe, although up to 70% of women may remain undiagnosed worldwide. Generally detected in women 20-30 years old, PCOS can also develop in pre-teens and teenagers, including those who have not yet started menstruation.
If diagnosed early, PCOS patients may have more time to manage its emotional and physical effects. This also allows patients to take steps to reduce or prevent the onset of more serious related illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Another hallmark of PCOS is elevated levels of androgen. Although androgen is more closely associated as a male sex hormone, women naturally produce small amounts of it. In women, androgen plays an important role in egg follicle progression. However, with PCOS, the ovaries produce a higher amount of androgen hormones, which can disrupt normal follicular development, resulting in infertility as well as several other symptoms.
Common PCOS Symptoms
Besides menstrual issues and other health concerns, these increased androgen levels can cause certain PCOS symptoms. While symptoms vary from patient to patient, the more common symptoms include:
- Heavy, long, intermittent, unpredictable, or absent periods
- Acne or oily skin
- Excessive facial or body hair
- Male-pattern baldness or hair thinning
- Weight gain, especially around the belly
How Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Affects Female Fertility
One of PCOS’ most serious impacts is a disruption in the release of a woman’s eggs. While the ovaries’ follicles have eggs, they fail to develop and mature properly, meaning there is no ovulation or release of eggs – also known as anovulation. Not only is PCOS the most common anovulation cause, but it is also the leading endocrine disorder in women and one of the main causes of female infertility. PCOS can also cause women’s endometrial lining to not properly develop, meaning mature eggs are unable to be implanted in the uterine wall.
PCOS and Insulin Resistance
In addition to issues with ovulation and menstruation, PCOS may boost levels of the hormone insulin. Produced in the pancreas, insulin is responsible for helping your body convert blood glucose into energy. However, PCOS patients are likely to be insulin-resistant, meaning their bodies can make insulin but cannot use it effectively. This can elevate type 2 diabetes risks – in fact, more than 50% of women with PCOS are estimated to become diabetic or prediabetic before age 40.
Become Educated About PCOS’ Impact on Fertility
As Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is so common and serious, all women of reproductive age should be aware of this condition, as well as potential fertility treatment options. If you suspect or are living with PCOS, you and your physician can discuss treatments and preventive measures to manage it. To schedule a PCOS consultation in New York City or for general fertility questions, please contact Chelsea Fertility NYC today.