Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and infertility

KEY POINTS

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition related to a hormonal imbalance.

  • PCOS can cause problems with ovulation making it harder to get pregnant.

  • It may also increase certain risks during pregnancy, but your health care provider can help you find ways to stay healthy for you and your baby.

What is Polycystic ovary syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (also called PCOS) is one of the most common causes of infertility in women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PCOS affects as many as 5 million women of reproductive age in the United States.

Although the exact cause of PCOS is not known it’s a condition that is related to hormonal imbalance. Women with PCOS have higher levels of androgens, which is a male hormone that women also have.  When women have too much androgens, it can cause symptoms like acne, thinning hair, and extra hair growth on the face and body.

High levels of androgens can also cause problems with ovulation.  Women with PCOS may not ovulate each month, or may not ovulate at all.

How does PCOS affect fertility?

Because women with PCOS can have problems with ovulation, it can be harder for them to get pregnant compared to women who do not have PCOS.

PCOS can be treated, but a lot of it depends on the symptoms or specific health problems a woman may have. Treatment can include:

Talk to you health care provider if you have PCOS and are planning to get pregnant. Together you can talk about what treatment may help increase your chance of getting pregnant.

How does PCOS affect pregnancy?

If you have PCOS it’s important you see your health care provider before pregnancy to make sure any health problems you have are under control and that any medications you are taking are safe.

In pregnant women, PCOS increases the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, miscarriage and needing a C-section. Women with PCOS also have a greater chance of having a baby that is too heavy (macrosomia) or a baby who may need to spend more time in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU).

During pregnancy, doing the following can help keep you and your baby healthy:

  • Get early and regular prenatal care. Go to every prenatal care checkup, even if you’re feeling fine. Your provider will test for conditions like diabetes and check to make sure that your baby is growing well.  
  • Talk to your provider about how much weight to gain during pregnancy. If you’re overweight, you want to gain about 15 to 25 pounds during pregnancy. If you’re obese, your target range is 11 to 20 pounds.  
  • Don’t diet. Some diets can reduce the nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop. Don’t try to lose weight during pregnancy.
  • Eat healthy foods. Talk to your provider or a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to help you plan your meals. Check out choosemyplate.gov from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Do something active every day. Talk to your provider about activities that are safe for you.