Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of female infertility affecting up to 10 percent of reproductive-age women. PCOS is caused by an imbalance in the male and female sex hormones that can prevent ovulation. Typically, the ovaries make very small amounts of male sex hormones called androgens. In women with PCOS, the ovaries start making more androgens, which can prevent ovulation and cause cysts to develop in the ovaries.
Some women with PCOS also experience weight gain and difficulty losing weight. Elevated levels of insulin due to resistance of the ovaries can be an underlying factor for the hormonal imbalance resulting in weight gain. Research on the impact of weight and fertility, especially in those with PCOS, has continued to develop and ultimately reinforce one of the common recommendations made by the physicians at Shady Grove Fertility: exercise. Shady Grove Fertility physician Naveed Khan, M.D., of Shady Grove Fertility’s Leesburg, VA office states, “Exercise and a healthy diet can improve a woman’s response to fertility medications and increase her chances of becoming pregnant. Research has shown that losing just 5 percent of body weight can help a woman achieve a regular menstrual cycle and ovulate on her own.”
New Study Confirms Lifestyle Changes Improve Pregnancy Rates in Women with PCOS
Most recently, Endocrine Society conducted a study with the objective to compare preconception interventions and their impact on fertility in women with PCOS. The participants in the study were between the ages of 18 and 40 and were either overweight or obese. As part of the study, the women were assigned to one of the following control groups: Group A was instructed to take birth control pills, Group B was instructed to partake in active lifestyle modifications, and Group C was instructed to do a combination of the two prior to attempting conception. After the intervention, the participants underwent four cycles of ovulation induction with medication.
Of the 49 women assigned to only birth control pills prior to conception, five delivered babies. Of the 50 women in the lifestyle intervention group, 13 delivered babies. Of the 50 women in the combination group, 12 delivered babies. The results showed that women who made active lifestyle adjustments during preconception were more likely to ovulate and deliver a baby.
Dr. Khan concluded that, “Whether you are trying to conceive or not, early diagnosis and treatment for PCOS is important. Not only will PCOS affect your ability to conceive, but it can also increase the risk for other health complications including high cholesterol, blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.”
Fertility Treatment Options for Women with PCOS
While diet and exercise are important first steps to treating PCOS, there are other treatment options available. Since women with PCOS do not ovulate regularly, physicians often prescribe oral medication such as clomiphene citrate (Clomid, Serophene) to help induce ovulation. Clomid with timed intercourse or intrauterine insemination (IUI) is generally the first step in treatment. If patients are not successful or responsive to Clomid, the next fairly basic option is the use of gonadotropins to induce the recruitment, maturation, and ovulation of eggs. Many PCOS patients will be successful with a more basic treatment such as timed intercourse or IUI. Those who are not can move to in vitro fertilization (IVF) and increase their chances for success.