PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome. It is a common condition related to an imbalance of hormones. It affects as many as 1 out of 15 women, and is a leading cause of infertility as well as other health problems. Getting pregnant with PCOS can be possible with the right diagnosis and treatment.
There is no one characteristic that leads to a diagnosis of PCOS, but women who meet at least 2 out of the 3 following criteria are considered to have the condition:
Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
Androgen excess (signs include increased hair growth on face, chest or abdomen, acne or thinning hair of the scalp)
Polycystic ovaries (presence of 12 or more antral follicles in each ovary and/or increased ovarian volume)
The term polycystic ovary can be misleading, because it implies that you have multiple cysts on the ovaries. What are actually present are antral follicles, which are the sacs in the ovary (2 - 9 mm in diameter) in which your eggs develop. While it sounds as though having a lot of antral follicles would be a good thing, the problem in PCOS is that ovulation often does not occur. So the egg is not released from the follicle in order to be fertilized.
Other Symptoms of PCOS
Many other symptoms can occur in women who have PCOS, but they don’t necessarily confirm the diagnosis. For example, some women who have PCOS also have increased weight gain or obesity. However, just because you are overweight does not mean you have PCOS, and conversely just because a woman is underweight does not rule out the syndrome. A high or low AMH level is also not an indicator.
PCOS patients can have high blood pressure, and blood sugar abnormalities (hyperinsulinemia). Patients that do not get periods (and therefore do not ovulate) can develop uterine cancer over a period of a few years.
If you are concerned that you may have PCOS, talk to your physician. A medical history, physical exam and a vaginal ultrasound can be performed to determine if you meet any of the three criteria listed above. If so, your doctor will discuss with you how certain treatments can help improve your symptoms and increase your ability to achieve pregnancy.
Janet Chiaramonte joined the staff of Invia Fertility as a registered nurse in 2005. Years ago (too many to count), she received her Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, and then worked for a decade at Children's Memorial Hospital in an administrative position. She always wanted to be part of the patient care side of medicine though, so she went back to school and received an Associate's Degree in Nursing.