Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): What you need to know

Did you know that September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Month? 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 (also called CDC), PCOS affects as many as 5 million women of reproductive age in the United States.

PCOS 101

Although the exact cause of PCOS is not known it’s a condition that is related to hormonal imbalance. This means that there is too much or too little of a hormone in the body. Women with PCOS have higher levels of androgens. Although this a male hormone that women also have, when there is too much of it in a woman’s body it causes problems. For example, 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. Ovulation happens each month about 14 days before the first day of your period. But women with PCOS may not ovulate each month, or may not ovulate at all.

PCOS and 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. But this doesn’t meant that women with PCOS can’t get pregnant. PCOS can be treated, but a lot of it depends on the symptoms or specific health problems a woman may have. Treatment can include medicine, losing weight, fertility treatments, and in some cases surgery.

If you have PCOS and are planning to get pregnant talk to your health care provider. Together you can talk about what treatment would be best for you to help increase your chance of getting pregnant.

PCOS and pregnancy

If you have PCOS it’s important you see your health care provider before pregnancy. Talk to your provider 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 miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia 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. It can help you make a healthy eating plan based on your age, weight, height and physical activity. It also has a special section just for pregnant women.
  • Do something active every day. Talk to your provider about activities that are safe for you.

To learn more about PCOS check out these resources below: