Infertility Can Be Hardest Part of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Ovulation dysfunction makes conception challenging for women

 DAYTON, Ohio (July 16, 2018) – Polycystic ovarian syndrome has a myriad of symptoms, but among them infertility can be one of the hardest for a woman to accept.

“Polycystic ovarian syndrome is an issue that often is first discovered when a woman is not able to get pregnant,” said Ruby Shrestha, MD, an OB/Gyn physician with Lifestages Centers for Women. “It can often be a very hard truth for women to face.”

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance that is characterized by a dysfunction in a woman’s ovulation cycle, and an increased presence of the male hormone testosterone. The syndrome affects one in ten women of childbearing age. It’s the most common cause of infertility, but also one of the most treatable. Women with PCOS can get pregnant as long as they are able to ovulate with ovulation induction agents.

PCOS is most commonly diagnosed when a woman experiences irregular periods. This can include oligomenorrhea, which is when a woman has less than nine periods during a 12-month timeframe. Or it can be when a woman has amenorrhea, which is when a woman experiences no menstrual cycle for at least three months in a row. 

Another common symptom is hirsutism, which is increased hair growth, acne or male pattern baldness, all of which occur due to increased levels of testosterone in a woman’s body, said Dr. Shrestha, who practices with Premier Physician Network.

Providers often use what is called the Rotterdam Criteria to officially diagnose a patient. Two of three criteria must be met for a diagnosis including irregular menstrual cycles, increased levels of testosterone or the presence of small cysts on the ovary. These cysts, which appear on an ultrasound as a string of pearls, are how the syndrome got its name. However, other conditions that mimic PCOS have to be ruled out as well. 

“Polycystic ovarian syndrome has a genetic and environmental component,” Dr. Shrestha said. “Women who have a family history of PCOS are at risk of developing the syndrome. We also know obesity plays a role. However, it’s important to understand that we are still trying to discover what causes a woman to develop the condition.”

Research has shown that PCOS can have long-term effects on a woman’s health. Dr. Shrestha said it’s important for women to understand these potential health issues so that they can take steps to prevent their development or progression.

PCOS places a woman at a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life. Endometrial cancer is also something women with PCOS can develop due to chronic anovulation.

“The most important message I want women to hear is that they need to consult with a physician if they are experiencing irregular periods,” she said. “It’s important to discover what is causing the irregularity – whether that’s PCOS or something else. Once we have a diagnosis, physicians could help them conceive and follow closely down the road to avoid long-term complications.”

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