Women account for approximately 50-60% of fertility problems in Australia. There are varied reasons for infertility but one of the most common conditions that causes infertility in women is Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It is estimated to occur in 5 – 10% of women of childbearing age. So what is PCOS and why does it cause fertility issues?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal reproductive problem. It can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle, her fertility, hormones, insulin production, heart, blood vessels and appearance.
Women who have PCOS have certain characteristics that create complications including high levels of male hormones called androgens, irregular or no menstrual cycles, and an increase in body weight. Researchers believe that the increase of insulin within the body can cause the ovaries to react by creating a large number of unnecessary male hormones.
The ovaries produce 20 eggs each month that begin to mature, however usually only one will mature. When the egg has reached maturity the follicle within the ovaries will break open releasing the egg into the fallopian tube for fertilisation to begin. At this time ovulation takes place.
However, this is not the case for women with PCOS, unfortunately there is not enough hormones for the eggs to fully mature. Instead they may remain as a cyst. Without the mature egg, ovulation cannot occur and the hormone ‘progesterone’ cannot be created. Without this hormone, a women’s menstrual cycle will become irregular or absent which can often lead to difficulties falling pregnant.
There are a number of symptoms of PCOS, including irregular or no periods, infertility, or an inability to conceive. There can be an increase in hair growth in particular areas including the face, chest and back. Unhealthy skin may occur including acne, oily skin or dandruff. Other associations with PCOS include skin tags, sleep apnea, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels and a high blood pressure. If you experience symptoms like these above, the doctor can do a number of tests to diagnose PCOS. This can include examining your medical history, performing a physical exam, checking hormone levels and measuring glucose and insulin levels in the blood.
Unfortunately there is no cure for PCOS, however it is manageable and treatments are available based on the particular symptoms of each patient. Treatments can include, oral contraceptive pills, diabetes medications, fertility medications, medications for increased hair growth or extra male hormones and finally maintaining a healthy weight.
If you are having difficulty falling pregnant and know or suspect you might have PCOS, contact Demeter Fertility to make an appointment with one of our fertility specialists.
Demeter Fertility is a Sydney-based fertility and IVF clinic with locations in Hurstville and Liverpool.