Everything You Need to Know About PCOS and Infertility (Plus, How to Overcome It!)

notebook page with the words "PCOS Polycystic Ovary Syndrome" written on it

I got my first period on the morning of a big middle school field trip I’d been anxiously awaiting for months. Suffice it to say; I was not pleased. Never, on that day, did I imagine that my periods would continue to be a problem, or that I would have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) that would cause infertility struggles. 

From that day forward, I assumed my period would become the normal painstaking occurrence most women complain about. I’d circle dates on the calendar, monitor my PMS symptoms, and haphazardly complain until one day I would reach menopause, and the nonsense would stop.

Little did I know that my reproductive and menstrual cycles had plans of their own.

Naive little me had no idea the annoyance of my period would eventually become a catalyst in learning that I was struggling with a hormonal condition called PCOS.

To add insult to injury, however, I was actually suffering from PCOS and infertility. 

While myself and many other women hope that getting pregnant with PCOS naturally will be easy, that isn’t usually the case.

Infertility is one of the most common symptoms among PCOS patients, and it’s often one of the only factors that lead patients to a diagnosis.

Just because you have this condition, however, doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant. From a PCOS infertility diet to alternative PCOS infertility treatment options, we’ve gathered all the information you need to try and overcome your battle to conceive.

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What is PCOS?

PCOS is a reproductive and endocrinologic condition that causes hormonal imbalances in women. This frustrating and incurable disorder is experienced by approximately 6-10% of the female population.

PCOS is also a contributing factor in approximately 25- 30% of infertility cases throughout the world.

There are three common characteristics found in a PCOS diagnosis. These include:

Despite the term “polycystic” being included in the name, it’s important to realize that some women with PCOS don’t actually have any cysts on their ovaries. Others, however, have several. 

While the name would have you believe ovarian cysts are the common denominator amongst PCOS patients, it is instead the fact that these women have more ovarian follicles than normal. If one of these follicles do not open up during ovulation, a cyst could form.

What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?

It’s not unusual for it to take years for women to figure out they’re suffering from PCOS. 

infographic that details the symptoms of PCOS

I, for one, dealt with irregular periods for approximately 13 years before I discovered there was a bigger problem at play than me just being unlucky.

While PCOS and infertility commonly go hand-in-hand, the “fun” doesn’t stop there. Due to the aforementioned hormonal imbalances, this incredibly frustrating disorder can also come with various other symptoms, including:

  • Weight Gain or Obesity
  • Unwanted Facial Hair
  • Hair Loss
  • Acne or Oily Skin
  • Mental Disorders, i.e., depression or anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Sleep Problems

What is the PCOS Infertility Rate?

When I was first diagnosed with PCOS via an unfortunate phone call with an unkind nurse, she asked me if I understood what the diagnosis meant. Having never even heard of the condition, I said no.

She then informed me it meant I would never get pregnant, and even if I did conceive, I would more than likely lose the baby. 

Not exactly the type of information a woman who’s trying to have a baby wants to hear.

Thankfully, however, she was vastly misinformed, and the PCOS infertility rate is not as dire as she would have had me believe.

Infertility is undoubtedly a common symptom amongst women with this condition. Even though PCOS plays a role in approximately 30% of infertility cases, as we’ve mentioned, not every woman with the disorder will have a hard time conceiving.

Studies have shown that around 70-80% of women diagnosed with PCOS will face difficulty getting pregnant, but this does not mean that it’s impossible for all women. 

Why Does PCOS Cause Infertility?

So, we’ve covered the fact that PCOS can cause infertility, but the bigger question is, why?

The key relationship between PCOS and infertility is that it causes anovulation (lack of ovulation) in women, hence the missed or irregular periods. 

In fact, PCOS is the leading cause of anovulatory infertility cases (approximately 80%).

The reason for this lack of ovulation amongst patients isn’t entirely clear, but there is a theory. 

Prepare yourself for a little bit of scientific jargon:

Evidence has proven that there is a certain amount of delayed antral follicle development in PCOS patients. This delay can cause an abnormal interaction between insulin and luteinizing hormone (aka known as LH – it’s a reproductive hormone made in the pituitary gland), which may prevent ovulation from occurring.

Is Getting Pregnant With PCOS Naturally a Possibility?

As with anything else in life, there’s no rule stating that getting pregnant with PCOS naturally is out of the question.

After all, anything is possible, right?

Despite this possibility, however, it’s vital to recognize that natural conception can be a challenge. If you’re looking for ways to improve your chances, there are a few things you can try.

You might want to start by putting away that Google search for “how to get pregnant with PCOS quickly,” though. 

None of the suggestions below are “quick fixes” for your infertility. Instead, they’re lifestyle changes that can reduce the PCOS symptoms that lead to conception struggles, such as insulin resistance and inflammation.

PCOS Fertility Diet

Generally speaking, if you’re looking for the “perfect” PCOS infertility diet, you might assume that typical healthy eating patterns are the way to go.

While eating a well-rounded diet is never a bad idea; studies have shown that certain food groups yield better fertility-related results in women with PCOS. 

Ultimately, the goal of many PCOS fertility diets is to reduce high levels of insulin in the body and minimize the intake of inflammatory foods to improve hormone levels and promote losing weight.

These include:

  • High-fiber foods which can help lower insulin levels and reduce inflammation
  • As PCOS can lead to obesity, lean proteins can help with weight loss.
  • Antioxidant-rich foods, i.e., various berries and leafy greens, can reduce inflammation
  • Organic whole soy products can help improve infertility
  • Moderate amounts of healthy fats like olive oil or pistachios
  • Foods compliant with the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet are often suggested
almonds, blueberries, strawberries, spinach, and various spices laid out in the shape of a heart
These foods, including blueberries, almonds, and more, are part of the diets often recommended to help manage PCOS and infertility.

Supplements to Improve PCOS Symptoms

While it’s important to realize that many supplements are not regulated by the FDA, many have been found helpful in treating PCOS symptoms

Before you start any self-prescribed regimen of the following options, however, it’s always a good idea to discuss them with your primary care physician, gynecologist, or fertility specialist.

  • Turmeric has been found helpful in decreasing insulin resistance and inflammation.
  • Not only is Zinc said to boost fertility, but it can also help reduce unwanted hair caused by PCOS.
  • Evening primrose oil is thought to be a promising option for regulating periods.
  • Cinnamon can also help with insulin resistance and irregular periods.

Healthy Exercise Regimes

When we suggest a healthy exercise regime to manage your PCOS, we’re not talking about running the New York Marathon (unless that’s something you’ve trained to do, of course!).

Instead, what we’re suggesting is creating a balanced exercise routine that’s not too overwhelming to your system. When women undertake hard-hitting workouts, it can actually disrupt their hormones – not the best thing for individuals who already have a hormonal imbalance.

Gynecologists and fertility specialists will sometimes recommend gentle, low-impact exercises like yoga, swimming, or pilates are often suggested for women with PCOS.

Practice Self-Care

Battling PCOS and infertility is stressful.

The experience can feel all-consuming, and it’s easy to get caught up in the quest for the perfect PCOS fertility treatment.

While stress and anxiety might not be completely avoidable; there are ways to help take better care of yourself and practice proper stress management, including:

  • Yoga
  • Journaling and Artwork
  • Good Sleep Schedules
  • Acupuncture
  • Meditation
  • Aromatherapy  
  • Taking Up a New Hobby
  • Spending Time with Loved Ones
  • Communicating with Your Partner

Alternative PCOS Infertility Treatment Options

So, you’ve changed your diet, added turmeric to everything you eat, and started diffusing essential oils, but you’re still struggling with PCOS and infertility.

Unfortunately, this is not that uncommon.

PCOS is a tough egg to crack. While there are positives that can come from making large or small lifestyle changes, there’s no guarantee they will be the right PCOS infertility treatment for you.

If getting pregnant with PCOS naturally still isn’t happening, it might be time for more advanced PCOS infertility treatment options.

1. Ovarian Drilling

Ovarian drilling is a laparoscopic surgery often used to treat anovulation in PCOS patients. While not a common PCOS infertility treatment, it is successful in around 50% of cases. 

By using electrocautery or a laser, doctors destroy certain sections of a patient’s ovaries. While this might seem counterintuitive, the surgery can actually help restore regular ovulation cycles.

It’s important to realize, however, that ovarian drilling is not typically used unless there is a good reason.

The downsides of this surgery are that it can cause a severe decrease in eggs or cause early-onset menopause, so you want to be sure that, in consult with your medical care team, that this is the right procedure for you 

2. Fertility Drugs

When it comes to PCOS infertility treatment solutions, prescribing fertility-boosting drugs is usually the first step doctors will take.

Some of the most commonly used fertility medications include Clomid, Letrozole, and Gonadotropins.

While Letrozole is actually a popular breast cancer treatment, it’s often found to be a more effective way to trigger ovulation for PCOS patients than Clomid.

Often, doctors will also prescribe a Diabetes medication known as Metformin with these drugs. Metformin has been found to improve the effectiveness of fertility medications further and prevent miscarriage if conception does occur.

3. IVF (In Vitro Fertilization)

If fertility drugs have not worked to help someone get pregnant, the next step is IVF.

This process involves a regimen of ovarian stimulants that are used to increase the number of mature eggs available during a patient’s cycle. These eggs are then collected during an outpatient egg retrieval surgery.

They are fertilized in a petri dish and allowed to develop into high-grade embryos. From there, they are inserted back into the woman’s uterus during a pain-free embryo transfer procedure.

While IVF has been proven highly successful as a PCOS infertility treatment, there is one important thing to keep in mind.

The stimulation drugs used during your cycle can lead to a condition known as Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which PCOS patients are more susceptible to developing. It’s important not to miss any of your monitoring appointments during this phase of the cycle.

While these appointments can be frustrating, they’re vital to your health and safety.

During my own fresh IVF cycle, for instance, I was at such a high risk for developing OHSS, I had to be monitored every day for almost two weeks.

PCOS patients should also realize that while their condition might allow them to produce a significant number of eggs, many of those might be poor in quality. Thankfully, though, with larger collections comes a greater number of chances for the perfect eggs you need.

Overcoming Your Battle with PCOS and Infertility

There’s nothing fun about PCOS.

The women suffering from this hormonal condition are strapped with symptoms that can drive you crazy at times. The weight gain, the random body hair, the not knowing if your period is actually going to show up – it’s not exactly a day at the beach.

However, the most overwhelming symptom of PCOS is the inability to have a child when you want one more than anything else in the world.

While there may not be an easy answer to the question “how to get pregnant with PCOS quickly,” this doesn’t mean all hope is lost.

There are several worthwhile PCOS infertility treatment options for you to consider.

Sure, they might mean playing a lengthy game of trial and error, but in the end, there’s no rule saying that you can’t become a mother.

Don’t let a PCOS diagnosis bring you down. Weigh your options and start building your plan for the future. The baby you’ve been dreaming of could be just a few months and ovulation tests away from becoming a reality.

Do you have PCOS-related infertility? If so, have you tried any of these treatment options?

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