Polycystic ovary syndrome: what you need to know

Published: 14 September 2021|Last updated: 14 September 2021|About Assisted Reproduction.|

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects one in 10 women and involves menstrual alterations along with others related to excess hair growth, acne or hair loss, as well as fertility problems.

Although there is no specific cure, there are nevertheless alternatives to treat the symptoms through, for example, hormonal treatments and lifestyle changes.

What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects almost one in 10 women. It is difficult to specify its origin: it may be due to genetic alterations, environmental factors or other as yet unknown components that produce a hormonal alteration that triggers the syndrome.

These hormonal alterations make ovulation (release of fully developed or mature eggs) difficult, so the eggs stay within the ovaries with a small amount of fluid around them.

What are the consequences of polycystic ovaries?

Patients with this problem will have at least two of the following three symptoms:

  • On the one hand, they have very irregular menstrual cycles, as it is common for them not to ovulate for many months.
  • On the other hand, on ultrasound, they present polycystic ovaries, in other words, ovaries that are larger than normal in size and with a high number of small follicles on their periphery.
  • The third most frequent sign is hyperandrogenism. Due to the hormonal alterations resulting from this syndrome, the body produces an increased amount of male hormones. All this can lead to symptoms such as hirsutism (excessive hair growth on the body), acne or alopecia.

As well as these alterations, it is common for these women to have trouble absorbing the sugars that their organism produces. They may be insulin resistant, and have higher than normal levels of this hormone. All this leads to one out of every two women affected by the syndrome being overweight or obese and, in addition, they may also have diabetes.

What treatment should be applied to treat polycystic ovary syndrome?

Experts point out that PCOS cannot be prevented or cured, but it is possible to reduce its associated symptoms with medical treatment and lifestyle changes.

On the one hand, there are hormonal treatments, such as birth control pills, which can help regulate the menstrual cycle and mitigate other problems such as acne or the appearance of body hair. Sometimes medication is also given to lower insulin levels and to help ovulation. Lifestyle changes can also help to improve symptoms. Thus, a good diet and weight reduction, even at moderate levels, can help treat hormonal changes and health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Experts recommend diets low in sugars, saturated fats and cholesterol combined with physical exercise and giving up unhealthy habits such as smoking and alcohol.

However, in all cases, treatments should be assessed by a medical specialist to ensure that they are appropriate to each woman’s needs, taking into account, among other things, the wish to achieve a pregnancy in the short term.

Do they affect or hinder reproduction?

The hormonal imbalance suffered by women with PCOS has a direct impact on their fertility. By altering their menstrual cycles, ovulation often fails to occur and, without regular ovulation, achieving a natural pregnancy becomes more difficult.

“In young patients who have not yet expressed a wish to get pregnant, following a diet, doing regular sport and controlling blood sugar levels, with medication if necessary, is recommended,” explains Dr Marta Trullenque, a specialist in assisted reproduction at Eugin. By following these healthy lifestyle guidelines, in some cases it has been seen that women are able to ovulate regularly and achieve pregnancy naturally.

When this is not possible and pregnancy does not come spontaneously, the most advisable option is to see a specialist. Depending on each case, the doctor will recommend assisted reproduction treatment – either with hormone treatment alone or through artificial insemination or in vitro fertilisation – having previously stimulated the ovaries with treatments that ensure ovulation occurs. “In any case, it is always advisable to consult a doctor as, depending on the degree of affectation, the time spent trying to get pregnant and the woman’s age, the recommendations and treatment will be different,” says Dr. Trullenque.

Polycystic ovary syndrome can affect a woman’s fertility due to hormonal alterations that have a direct impact on her menstrual cycle and, therefore, on ovulation.

Although there is no medical formula to cure the disease, there are medical and lifestyle alternatives that can help alleviate the symptoms and improve fertility-related problems. So, women who wish to get pregnant are advised to follow a healthy diet and to exercise, and to consult a specialist if a spontaneous pregnancy does not occur.

Assisted reproduction is an alternative for helping these women achieve their wish to become mothers, and there is a wide range of treatments that can be carried out, as long as they are medically recommended.