If you’re one of the women in the UK who’s living with PCOS, you may be part of a larger group than you thought: the NHS estimates that one in five women may be living with the condition, which is known in full as Polycystic Ovary (or Ovarian) syndrome. As it’s not well understood, and rarely discussed by the public, and hard to diagnose (with symptoms that can resemble other conditions, or for some women with fertility effects but few visible symptoms), there could be even more than that!
PCOS has a brought spread of effects: it can impact your mood, your weight, your hair growth, but perhaps the most significant and impactful effect PCOS can have on you is the way it affects your reproductive health. Today we’re taking a look at the way PCOS, fertility and your chances to conceive interact, the challenges it presents and the solutions that can help you overcome them
PCOS and Fertility
PCOS affects your whole body, but the main way it affects your fertility is in the ovaries. Hormones released in the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle cause your ovaries to matures 15-20 eggs in small, fluid filled sacs called follicles. Over the course of around two weeks, one of these eggs predominates and grows to full maturity while the others are reabsorbed. When you have PCOS, you have lots of eggs maturing in these sacs, but far fewer reaching maturity, which you ovulate less regular. If an egg isn’t released in a cycle that means you don’t have a chance to get pregnant.
This means your ovaries have lots of these sacs in them – the ‘many cysts’ that the word ‘polycystic’ refers to.
Getting Pregnant With PCOS
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get pregnant when you have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. The severity of its effects on reproductive health vary from person to person, but most will experience ovulation, just in a less regular and predictable pattern than people without the condition.
That makes identifying when you’re ovulating vitally important. Unfortunately the hormonal disruption PCOS brings with it means the most convenient means of identifying ovulation will be of limited use: similar to pregnancy tests, hormone based Ovulation Predictor Kits don’t give accurate results when you’re hormones vary off the baseline they’re calibrated for.
Measuring your basal body temperature is more accurate measure, especially for people with PCOS and technology exists that makes doing this more convenient: no more mercury thermometers and pen and paper graphs: specialist sensors and apps gather accurate readings and turn the data into predictions for you so you can maximise your chances of getting pregnant when you have PCOS.