Do you have polycystic ovary syndrome? You’re not alone. Experts estimate that as many as one in 10 women have PCOS, and it accounts for nearly a third of all infertility cases.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders in women of reproductive age. It’s characterized by ovarian dysfunction, excess testosterone, cysts on the ovaries.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
In some women, PCOS can cause such subtle symptoms that women might not even realize anything is wrong. Other women might go several months without getting their period and experience a variety of physical symptoms. The unpredictability means that all the usual methods of tracking your cycle—the temperature method, ovulation sticks, observing cervical mucus—will be more difficult to use for tracking ovulation.
- Irregular or absent menstrual periods
- Excess hair growth in unusual places, like your upper lip, chin, shoulders, chest, or inner thighs
- Weight gain
Why did I get PCOS?
Nobody knows for sure what causes PCOS, but experts speculate that it has a genetic component, and that it might also have something to do with the body’s inability to use insulin properly. One of the most important risk factors for developing PCOS is obesity.
What’s happening inside my body with PCOS?
PCOS is a cascade of hormonal effects that begins when the brain produces abnormal amounts of gonadotropin-releasing hormone. This leads to an overproduction of luteinizing hormone, which in turn causes the ovaries to produce an excess of testosterone (normally, they produce very little). Excess amounts of LH and testosterone disrupt ovarian function, and prevents women with PCOS from ovulating regularly. Without ovulation, the hormones estrogen and progesterone become imbalanced, with too much estrogen and not enough progesterone.
These hormonal imbalances prevent the developing follicles in the ovaries from maturing properly. Instead of one egg dominating each month and eventually bursting out in ovulation, the developing follicles stay trapped inside. After time, so many follicles collect in the ovary that cysts begin to form. Eventually, a shell also forms around the outside of the ovary, causing further disruptions to ovulation.
How do I get pregnant if I have PCOS?
Here are the steps to getting pregnant with PCOS, from easiest and least expensive to costliest and most invasive:
- Weight loss and regular exercise may help the body become more sensitive to insulin, and therefore not need to produce as much of it. When there is less insulin around to stimulate ovarian production of testosterone, the ovaries are able to do their job better. For some women, weight loss alone is enough to restore normal ovarian function. For others, even though weight loss may improve health and insulin status, it’s not sufficient to restore fertility.
- There is some evidence that electro-acupuncture can help induce ovulation in women with PCOS. Research is inconclusive on whether the benefits are real or just placebo affect, but given the low cost of electro-acupuncture, especially compared to many fertility treatments, there’s little harm in trying.
- Medications to induce ovulation including Metformin, Clomid, and Femara.
- When oral medications are ineffective, injectable gonadotropins are usually the next line of treatment. One of the biggest downsides is the high risk for multiple births (think triplets or higher!).
- In-vitro fertilization has a high success rate, but it’s not always covered by insurance and can be very expensive.
Can Ava help me if I have PCOS?
Many women with PCOS have asked if they can use Ava to help them get pregnant. We understand why they’re asking: the current options for tracking fertility are difficult to use when you have PCOS, and a device that could tell you when you’re fertile without taking your temperature every morning or going through tons of ovulation sticks would be really exciting!
However, we want to be very clear that the first version of the Ava bracelet has not been clinically tested among women with PCOS, and so we cannot make any claims about whether it will be effective for the condition. We plan on including women with PCOS in our future studies, and will release an update when we’re confident that it is a reliable fertility tracking option for women with PCOS.
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