Mother and Baby

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Section: Fertility
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

One in 10 women have PCOS, which can stop them ovulating regularly and reduce their chances of getting pregnant

What is it?

Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a very common condition, where a large number of fairly harmless, small cysts grow in the ovaries. These cysts are essentially follicles, which contain eggs that have not developed properly.

Because this often means the follicles cannot release an egg as they normally would during a woman’s monthly cycle, ovulation does not occur or happens irregularly. Doctors still don’t know exactly why PCOS happens, but it often runs in families and is more common in women who are overweight.

Women with PCOS often produce high levels of insulin, which in itself can prevent normal ovulation and lead to weight gain so it can be a bit of a vicious circle. It’s also associated with an imbalance in several hormones.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of PCOS are irregular periods or no periods at all, weight gain, excessive hair growth and acne, as well as potential problems getting pregnant. The condition is a spectrum, explains Dr Yakoub Khalaf, a consultant in reproductive medicine at Guy’s Hospital in London.

‘At one end you have women who have no symptoms but the condition is found when you do an ultrasound scan, and at the other end you have women with lots of symptoms, including not having a period for three months or even up to a year in some cases.’

Dr Israel Ortega of world leading IVI Fertility Clinic says, “In addition to the most common symptoms, women suffering from PCOS can also find themselves susceptible to some more serious health problems later in life such as type two diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, depression and sleep apnoea.”

What can you do?

Treatment can vary depending on how bad your condition is. Simply losing weight can be helpful for some women. Others may need hormone treatment or a drug called metformin, which helps the body deal with excess insulin.

Yakoub adds that most of the time fertility problems in women with PCOS will be related to the failure to release an egg. ‘This can often be overcome by medication and if not, there is a procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling, where the ovaries are treated using heat or a laser.’

Becoming pregnant can also help treat the condition to an extent.

Dr Israel Ortega says, “If you are suffering from any of the symptoms associated with PCOS then in the first instance it is advisable that you book in to see your GP who will be able to carry out the necessary checks and rule out any other conditions. In some cases, they might also carry out an ultrasound scan, and/or a blood test as part of the exploration process. Following a diagnosis you may be referred to a PCOS specialist who will be able to help advise you on the best way to manage the symptoms.”

“Sadly, there is no cure for PCOS however, there are a number of ways in which patients can manage their symptoms effectively.

“In some cases, a weight loss programme may be advised to help reduce the effect of PCOS. Studies have shown that in overweight women, a decrease of just 5% of their body mass can have a positive impact on PCOS.

“For those suffering from missed or irregular periods it is often advisable to go on the contraceptive pill which can help to regulate a cycle.

“If you are trying to get pregnant and suffer from PCOS then it is recommended that you visit a fertility specialist who will be able to check if there are any further problems, such as blocked fallopian tubes, before advising on the best cause of medication. Clomifene is often prescribed in the first instance and is used to encourage the regular release of an egg from the ovaries. If this medication is found to be unsuccessful, then there are a number of other options which can be considered.”

See your GP…

If you have irregular or no periods and have been trying to get pregnant for a year with no success.


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