Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that affects 1 in 10 women. Those who have PCOS may need medical advice or specialist support on the best strategies to conceive. In this article, we cover the basics of PCOS and how to access care.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a condition that affects how the ovaries work and disrupts hormonal balance in the body. The exact cause of PCOS is still unknown. There are three main features of PCOS. If you have at least two of these features, you may be diagnosed with PCOS:
- Absent or reduced ovulation
This means the ovaries aren’t releasing eggs as frequently as normal. Irregular periods could be an indication of this.
- High levels of androgens
Androgens, like testosterone, may cause excess facial or body hair.
- Polycystic ovaries
Your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs.
Common PCOS symptoms
For those who develop symptoms of PCOS, they will usually start to show in your late teens/early twenties. Common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular or absent periods
- Irregular or absent ovulation
- Heavy or very light bleeding when you have a period
- Painful periods
- Excessive body or facial hair growth
- Hair loss from your head
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Oily skin and acne
- Difficulty getting pregnant
- Depression, anxiety
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and worry you might have PCOS, you might want to consider speaking to your GP. It is really helpful if you can provide a symptom diary, allowing the GP to see if there is a correlation of symptoms with triggers and the pattern of symptoms you are experiencing. This can be helpful in understanding the type and severity of PCOS. Your GP will determine if you need blood tests to measure your hormone levels and an ultrasound scan to look at your ovaries. PCOS can increase your risk of some other conditions and it’s possible they may request additional tests such as glucose and lipid levels.
How is PCOS treated?
Currently, there is no cure for PCOS, however, the symptoms can be managed. The main options are:
- Lifestyle changes
Some people with PCOS are instructed to lose weight to help improve their symptoms. A 5% weight reduction can significantly improve symptoms, improve ovulation and increase the chances of pregnancy. But we realise this is easier said than done. High levels of insulin that can be associated with PCOS can make weight loss difficult. Your GP may be able to refer you to a dietician for specific advice.
The contraceptive pill might be recommended as a means to regulate the menstrual cycle. Another option might be metformin, which can help lower insulin and blood sugar levels in women with PCOS.
A minor surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) may be a treatment option for fertility problems associated with PCOS that do not respond to medicine. This can help correct the hormone imbalance and restore the function of your ovaries.
PCOS and trying to conceive
PCOS can be associated with fertility problems, specifically if ovulation does not occur. If you have PCOS and you know that you’re ovulating, then the Béa Treatment kit could be a good treatment option. The Béa Applicator needs to be used around the time of ovulation for the best chances of getting pregnant. You should use the ovulation tests that you know and trust to track your cycle. In general, you should start ovulation testing 17 days before your next period is due and continue taking them until you have a positive reading. With irregular cycles, it can be difficult to gauge when to start ovulation testing. Check the shortest cycle you've had in the past 6 months and base your testing on that cycle length!
Once you have a positive ovulation test you should use the Béa Applicator. That way – the sperm will be in place by the time you ovulate! The Béa Applicator is designed to deliver sperm to the cervix, giving sperm a better chance of getting to the fallopian tube with our custom cervical cap
Visiting your doctor about PCOS and fertility
If you have PCOS and are having difficulty trying to conceive, it is a good idea to visit your GP. Your GP can help you optimise your health if there are any lifestyle changes you could be making or refer you for further investigations or to a specialist. NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines state that if there is a known predisposing factor for infertility, then doctors should make an earlier referral for specialist consultation. Alternative treatment options that might be recommended include ovulation induction or in vitro fertilisation.
If you’re not sure what to discuss with your GP – read our article How to speak with your doctor about fertility for support.