I Have PCOS: Will I Need Fertility Treatments to Get Pregnant?
By Brighid Flynn
If you have recently been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), it’s completely normal to be worried about your future fertility. You might be asking yourself, “Will I need fertility treatments to get pregnant?” Unfortunately, like so many things with fertility, the answer to that question is not so straightforward. However, the good news is that if you have PCOS, there’s no need to panic. There is definitely hope for conception, either naturally or through Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) like IUI or IVF.
In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the different treatment options and outcomes you might face on your road to pregnancy with PCOS.
What is PCOS?
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is a hormonal condition that affects approximately 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. It’s also one of the leading causes of infertility in the United States. Some of the physical symptoms of PCOS to look out for include irregular periods, missed periods, excess body hair (hirsutism), weight gain, acne, male-pattern baldness, and infertility. Some of the not-so-obvious symptoms include elevated androgen levels, ovaries that are large or have cysts, and insulin resistance.
PCOS can be diagnosed through bloodwork and vaginal ultrasound, so if you suffer from irregular or absent periods or any of the other physical symptoms of PCOS, ask your healthcare provider to look into it as soon as possible. Remember, if you can’t pinpoint ovulation, it can be difficult to get pregnant naturally, so the sooner you receive a PCOS diagnosis and discuss actionable next steps with your doctor, the better.
Conceiving Naturally with PCOS
Is it possible to conceive naturally with PCOS? The short of it is: yes, it is within reach to get pregnant naturally with PCOS. For some, it can simply mean making a few lifestyle changes and navigating just a slightly trickier route to conception.
If you are trying to get pregnant with PCOS, there are some standard first steps you might want to take. First, you will want to try to maintain a healthy weight through balanced eating and regular exercise. You will also want to get your blood sugar levels checked since PCOS can in some cases cause insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, resulting in fertility problems. Consuming a diet with more fiber, protein, and healthy fats can help you manage your blood sugar levels, and your doctor may even prescribe you medication as well.
Perhaps most importantly, you will want to track your menstrual cycle and ovulation, to look for any patterns or irregularities to let your doctor know about. The caveat to trying to conceive naturally with PCOS is that if you do not ovulate regularly or do not get pregnant after one year (6 months if you are over 35), then you should schedule a consultation with a fertility doctor as soon as possible.
Fertility Treatments For PCOS
If you are seeking fertility help with PCOS, the first step is typically Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). An IUI is a procedure of placing washed, or separated, sperm into a woman’s uterus while she is ovulating. This is typically done in the 24-36 hour window post-luteinizing hormone (LH) surge. Your healthcare professional might prescribe you ovulation induction medication leading up to the procedure. This is particularly common for women with PCOS, who may need extra help ovulating.
If one or multiple IUI procedures do not result in a pregnancy, then IVF is usually the next right step. The good news here is that women with PCOS typically have high AMH levels. AMH, or anti-mullerian hormone, levels help determine a woman’s ovarian reserve. In other words, it can indicate how many eggs a woman has left in her ovaries. Because women with PCOS generally have high AMH levels, they typically yield good results–or a high number of eggs retrieved–during IVF. If you know that you want multiple children, IVF can be a great option for women with PCOS to bank and freeze embryos for the future.
While no one wants to hear they have a medical condition that could affect their fertility, being diagnosed with PCOS does not mean that you will be unable to get pregnant. There are several lifestyle changes you can make on your own to help reduce your physical symptoms and potentially regulate your menstrual cycle. If that doesn’t work, then IUI and IVF procedures are the next best option. While we realize this can be a tough pill to swallow when you know you want to be a mom, we also want you to know that there is hope, even if the road to get there is not a straight one.
Brighid Flynn is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia where she lives with her husband and puppy. She is just beginning her journey toward motherhood.