PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) can make it difficult for women of childbearing age to get pregnant. While it can sometimes be a struggle, conception is still possible for women with this complex endocrine disorder.
If you suffer from PCOS, here are some simple, impactful steps that you can take to increase your chances of getting a positive pregnancy test.
In this article:
What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that’s marked by irregular or infrequent menstrual periods.1Watson, S. (2019). Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment.
Women with PCOS tend to have higher than usual levels of the male hormones, or androgens. The syndrome typically results in the development of multiple ovarian cysts. The cysts are fluid-filled pockets located in the walls of the ovaries. They disrupt and sometimes even stop the release of eggs.
According to the latest statistic, PCOS currently affects 1 in every 10 women of childbearing age.2Norman, R. J., Dewailly, D., Legro, R. S., & Hickey, T. E. (2007).Polycystic ovary syndrome. The Lancet, 370(9588), 685-697. womenshealth.gov
It is one of the leading causes of infertility. Fortunately, it is a treatable condition.
What are the chances of getting pregnant with PCOS?
There’s no way to give a streamline statistic when it comes to the fertility rates of women with PCOS. After all, every women’s situation is different. A women’s hormone levels, age, weight, and BMI all play into her chance of fertility.
Always speak with your doctor before trying a particular fertility treatment.
Keep in mind that PCOS interferes with your ability to grow and release eggs. However, it cannot singlehandedly stop you from getting pregnant.
Why treat your PCOS?
PCOS can seriously impact a woman’s health and wellbeing. Common PCOS symptoms include:3Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Irregular or completely absent menstrual periods
- Weight gain
- Thinning hair on head
- Unusual or excessive hair growth on the face, chest, etc.
- Oily or acne-covered skin
- Fertility issues
PCOS may also result in several serious health issues, including:
- Cardiovascular problems
- Endometrial cancer
Since PCOS inhibits fertility, many women wait until they are trying to conceive before attempting to manage this illness. Keep in mind that there are also PCOS treatments for women who are not looking to get pregnant.
What causes Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
Researchers have yet to pinpoint an exact cause of PCOS. However, they have found a correlation between the syndrome and excess insulin resistance, obesity, inflammation, and hormone production issues.4About Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Researchers have also discovered that PCOS runs in families. Many health professionals suspect that it is a genetic issue. Women with PCOS have imbalanced hormones. Most have higher than usual androgen levels.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
While there is no test that you can take to diagnose your PCOS, doctors can perform various tests and talk with you about your symptoms and medical history to determine if it is PCOS that ails you.
Does PCOS cause problems during pregnancy?
Yes, in addition to making conception more difficult, PCOS can cause several pregnancy-related complications. Women with PCOS are more likely to experience miscarriages, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, premature birth, and cesarean sections. The best way to prevent these circumstances is to eat healthily and exercise regularly up to and during your pregnancy. It is also suggested that women with PCOS who are planning pregnancy have screening for pregestational diabetes. At the first prenatal visit your provider can test you for diabetes.
Diet, exercise, and health for PCOS
Unfortunately, weight gain and obesity are proven to accelerate the effects of PCOS.5Barber, T. M., Hanson, P., Weickert, M. O., & Franks, S. (2019). Obesity and polycystic ovary syndrome: implications for pathogenesis and novel management strategies.Clinical Medicine Insights: Reproductive Health, 13, 1179558119874042.
At the same time, PCOS can accelerate weight gain and obesity. As a result, diet and exercise are some of the most crucial lifestyle changes that women can make to increase their chances of getting pregnant with PCOS.
Many women with PCOS suffer from insulin resistance. Unfortunately, insulin resistance typically suppresses a woman’s metabolism. When left untreated, it can lead to weight gain and even obesity. Eventually, weight gain can cause an interruption in a woman’s ovulation.
Weight gain also impacts a woman’s ability to produce estrogen and, therefore, ovulate.
With all of that said, weight loss is a proven method when it comes time to combat menstrual disorders. If you’re looking to shed pounds, you might consider:
- Focus your carb intake on complex carbs with high fiber
- Use the glycemic index (GI) to determine the best foods for you
- Increasing your fiber intake
- Increasing your lean protein intake
- Eating healthy fats
- Limiting your portions
- Reduce simple carbohydrates and sugars
- Replace higher sugar options/brands with lower sugar ones
- Opting for more fruits and veggies
Researchers have found that diet and exercise increase PCOS women’s chances of fertility. There is no one-size-fits-all diet for women with PCOS. Instead, women should look to eat whole foods with high nutritious value.
Get your weight and body mass index (BMI) measured by your doctor. These calculations will show you how much weight you need to lose (or gain) before you reach your ideal body composition. Additionally, have your doctor check your blood sugar levels to determine if you are at risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes.
Many women with PCOS find it difficult to lose weight. If you are trying to lose weight it is important to find a way that works with your lifestyle and doesn’t mean you miss out on important foods or nutrients.
Exercise is another excellent way to kickstart your body’s metabolism and shed those extra pounds. Keep in mind that weight loss tends to be more difficult for women with PCOS. Vigorous exercise lasting between 30-60 minutes per day has been shown to be associated with decreased infertility.6DHakimi, O., & Cameron, L. C. (2017). Effect of exercise on ovulation: a systematic review.Sports Medicine, 47(8), 1555-1567.
Brisk walks, jogs, weight training, and other low-impact forms are excellent options for women who are trying to conceive. Find physical activities that you enjoy and fit into your lifestyle.
Find physical activities that you enjoy and fit into your lifestyle.
Studies show that sleep disturbances and disorders are common in women with PCOS.7Fernandez, R. C., Moore, V. M., Van Ryswyk, E. M., Varcoe, T. J., Rodgers, R. J., March, W. A., … & Davies, M. J. (2018). 8Sleep disturbances in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: prevalence, pathophysiology, impact and management strategies. Nature and science of sleep, 10, 45.
Talk with your doctor if you are experiencing sleep interruptions, insomnia, or restlessness.
Stress is yet another factor that may put a woman at a higher risk for developing PCOS.9Rosenfield, R. L., & Ehrmann, D. A. (2016).The pathogenesis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): the hypothesis of PCOS as functional ovarian hyperandrogenism revisited. Endocrine reviews, 37(5), 467-520.
Anxiety and depression rates are also higher among women with PCOS. Changes in diet and exercise may increase your endorphins, lessening the effects of anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness and stress management can decrease perceived stress and may improve experience of symptoms related to PCOS.
There are several prescription and over-the-counter medications that women can take to manage their PCOS symptoms and increase their fertility rate. Here are a few of the more common treatments.
Metformin is a prescription Type 2 diabetes drug that treats polycystic ovary syndrome.10Johnson, N. P. (2014). Metformin use in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Annals of translational medicine, 2(6).
Metformin’s key role is to manage a woman’s insulin levels. It has high rates of success when used in conjunction with diet and exercise.
Clomid is a common fertility drug that is used to treat PCOS. It is called Serophene or clomiphene citrate (CC). It requires a prescription.
Research shows that the vast majority of Clomid interventions result in ovulation.11Budinetz, T. H., Benadiva, C. A., Griffin, D. W., Engmann, L. L., Nulsen, J. C., & DiLuigi, A. J. (2015).Ovulation rate and cycle characteristics in a subsequent clomiphene citrate cycle after stair-step protocol. Fertility and Sterility, 103(3), 675-679.
This drug works by stimulating the release of certain reproductive hormones. Success rates vary depending on a woman’s age.
Letrozole is a breast cancer treatment that has gained notoriety as a PCOS treatment. Letrozole suppresses a women’s estrogen levels. Over 60% of Letrozole users have reported successful ovulation. Meanwhile, 14.7% of Letrozole users have become pregnant.12Guang, H. J., Li, F., & Shi, J. (2018).Letrozole for patients with polycystic ovary syndrome: A retrospective study. Medicine, 97(44).
Recently, it has become a popular alternative to Clomid.
Gonadotropin therapy consists of follicle-stimulating hormone [FSH] injections. Gonadotropin is proven to induce ovulation in women with polycystic ovaries.
Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)
During intrauterine insemination (IUI), sperm is placed directly inside a woman’s uterus. This treatment increases a woman’s chance of getting pregnant. It costs less than IVF and other fertility treatments.
While birth control prevents pregnancy, it is a common pre-fertility treatment strategy. Combination pills help balance a woman’s levels of estrogen and testosterone. Therefore, it is not unusual for a doctor to prescribe birth control to a woman who is about to go through with IVF or IUI treatments.
Laparoscopic Ovarian Drilling (LOD)
Laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) is a surgical treatment that may help some women with PCOS. During this treatment, small sections of the ovaries are damaged. Up to 50% of patients get pregnant after the procedure.13Laparoscopic Ovarian Drilling (Ovarian Diathermy) for PCOS
IVF (in-vitro fertilization) is a popular fertility treatment for women with PCOS. During IVF, a woman’s eggs are harvested from her body and fertilized. After successful fertilization, the fertilized egg, or embryo, can be transferred to the woman’s uterus. Patients then await the results of positive implantation. The success rate of IVF treatments on patients with PCOS is around 75%.14Is IVF a real solution for infertility caused by PCOS – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Natural PCOS fertility treatments
There are also some evidence-backed natural treatments for PCOS. The following vitamins and minerals may just put you one step closer to that positive pregnancy test. Always speak with your doctor before trying a particular fertility treatment.
Chromium is a mineral that is proven to decrease fasting blood sugar and insulin levels in clomiphene citrate-resistant women with PCOS.15Amooee, S., Parsanezhad, M. E., Shirazi, M. R., Alborzi, S., & Samsami, A. (2013). Metformin versus chromium picolinate in clomiphene citrate-resistant patients with PCOs: A double-blind randomized clinical trial. Iranian journal of reproductive medicine, 11(8), 611.
One study suggests that chromium picolinate (the supplement of chromium) is just as effective as the pharmaceutical drug, metformin. With that said, this drug is not proven to change or improve women’s hormone levels.
Studies show that Omega-3 fatty acids reduce women’s resistance to insulin, decrease their testosterone concentrations, and increase their chances of conception.16Yang, K., Zeng, L., Bao, T., & Ge, J. (2018).Effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acid for polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 16(1), 27.
Women with PCOS could also benefit from taking a daily dose of magnesium. Magnesium consumption is proven to lower blood pressure while increasing insulin resistance.
Folate is yet another supplement that is proven to decrease a person’s insulin resistance, decreasing their cholesterol levels.
Inositol is yet another over-the-counter supplement that may help you improve your insulin resistance.
Generally speaking, women can benefit from knowing their most fertile days. Using an ovulation calculator, track your most fertile days. There are usually six days during your menstrual period when you can get pregnant.
All women should talk with their healthcare providers before considering pregnancy. Healthcare professionals are the only individuals that are qualified to assess a woman’s fertility issues. If you suffer from irregular periods or have tried and failed to get pregnant over 12 months, there’s a possibility that you are suffering from PCOS. You may want to speak with a fertility expert to determine your best course of action. Of course, you can’t go wrong by making positive, healthy changes to your lifestyle.