Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal condition that tampers with more than just your fertility, but you might first receive a diagnosis when you’re trying to get pregnant. This is because it’s a common — and treatable — cause of infertility in women.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), up to 12 percent of women Trusted Source in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant because of untreated PCOS. In reality, this number might be bigger because almost 50 percent of women with this syndrome don’t know they have it or are not diagnosed correctly.
Having PCOS doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant. It just might be a bit trickier and you may need extra help. There is plenty that you can do at home and with medical treatment to keep PCOS symptoms at bay and raise your chances for a healthy pregnancy.
Getting pregnant with PCOS involves some of the same steps that women without PCOS should take for a healthy pregnancy.
- Have your weight and body mass index (BMI) measured by your doctor. Your BMI shows whether you have a healthy body weight and how much of your body composition is fat. If you are carrying extra weight, talk to your doctor about how much weight you need to lose before you get pregnant.
- Start a healthy diet and exercise plan. Get into the habit of choosing healthier food choices and being more active.
- Use an ovulation calendar or app to track when you have your period. This helps you make a better guess about which days of the month you are more likely to get pregnant.
- Check your blood sugar levels. See your doctor to make sure your blood sugar levels are balanced. Your blood sugar levels are important in getting pregnant, having a healthy pregnancy, and even in your baby’s future health.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight has been linked to PCOS, but many women who have this condition are not overweight at all. Still, if you are carrying extra weight, you may improve your fertility and reduce other PCOS symptoms by losing just 5 percent of your weight.
Exercise daily by going for a walk and getting in your steps. Use a standing desk rather than sitting down while you’re working. Lift light weights while watching TV as building more muscle helps bring down PCOS symptoms and improves your health.
Eat for health
Any woman who is trying to get pregnant needs to have the right levels of nutrients. Switch out sugary foods, simple carbs, and unhealthy fats for healthier choices, including:
- fresh and cooked fruit and vegetables
- whole grains like brown rice, oats, and barley
- beans and lentils
Certain vitamins and minerals are important for a healthy pregnancy and a growing baby. Ask your doctor about the best supplements for you. Supplements that may help fertility include:
- folic acid (vitamin B9)
- vitamin B6
- vitamin B12
- vitamin C
- vitamin D
- vitamin E
- coenzyme Q10
Balance blood sugar levels
Your doctor will test your blood sugar levels if you’re having trouble getting pregnant. PCOS sometimes leads to high blood sugar levels or type 2 diabetes. This may cause fertility problems.
This happens because PCOS may change how your body uses insulin. This important hormone moves sugar (glucose) out of the blood and into the muscles and cells where it is burned for energy. PCOS makes your body less sensitive to insulin — making it harder for it to do its job.
Balancing your blood sugar levels may help you get pregnant. Eat a healthy diet with more fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Getting plenty of daily exercise and strength training can also help your body use insulin better.
In some cases, your doctor might recommend medications to help balance your blood sugar levels. A common type 2 diabetes drug called metformin (or Glucophage) makes your body use insulin better to help lower high blood sugar. This can also help you get pregnant with PCOS.
You might need to take metformin in low doses and only temporarily, depending on your blood sugar levels. For best results, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly along with taking any prescribed medications to help you get pregnant.
If you have high blood sugar levels or type 2 diabetes, it’s important to check your blood sugar levels with a home monitor every day.
Your doctor will check your blood sugar levels with tests, including:
- random blood sugar test
- overnight fasting blood sugar test
- oral glucose tolerance tests (after fasting and drinking a sugary drink)
- hemoglobin A1C test (checks your blood sugar levels for the last two to three months)
If you have PCOS your body might make more of both the male hormone testosterone and the female hormone estrogen. Too much (or too little) of these hormones can make it tricky to get pregnant. Your doctor might recommend prescription medications to help balance your hormones.
Medications to help you get pregnant with PCOS include:
- metformin to balance insulin levels
- clomiphene citrate (or Clomid) to help balance estrogen levels
- birth control pills to balance estrogen and testosterone levels (before beginning fertility treatment)
- fertility medications to jump-start the ovaries to send out more eggs
You may need in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment to help you get pregnant with PCOS. Your fertility doctor will give you a checkup that may include more blood tests, ultrasounds scans, and a physical exam.
IVF is a process that can take months or even years whether you have PCOS or not. However, medical researchTrusted Source shows that women with PCOS have a high success rate of getting pregnant with IVF treatment.
Some clinical studiesTrusted Source found that women with PCOS who took birth control pills before the IVF treatment had better results. You may also need other mediations to help balance hormones and get your body ready for the IVF treatment.
For all women, the first step in IVF treatment is to eat a balanced diet and get plenty of exercise to reach a healthy weight. Women with PCOS who are a healthy weight are twice as likely to get pregnantTrusted Source with IVF than women with PCOS who are obese.
Before exploring IVF, your doctor might suggest a less-costly alternative called intrauterine insemination (IUI). This process increases the chance of pregnancy because it directly injects a high concentration of sperm closer to the egg.
PCOS symptoms and complications
PCOS may make it harder to get pregnant because it can impact your menstruation cycle (your monthly period). Symptoms include:
- too few menstrual periods
- having your period for longer than usual
- not getting your period
- very heavy periods
- higher levels of male hormones like testosterone
- acne breakouts
- getting facial hair and extra hair in other places
- small cysts or bundles of fluid in the ovaries
- fewer eggs released from the ovaries
If you don’t get treated for PCOS, it also raises your risk for other health conditions, like:
- type 2 diabetes
- sleep apnea (snoring)
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
No one knows why some women get PCOS. Nothing you did — or didn’t do— caused you to have this condition. But getting an early diagnosis and treatment along with making other lifestyle changes may help you get pregnant and prevent health complications from PCOS.
Chances of getting pregnant with PCOS
If you are trying to get pregnant with PCOS, you may only need treatment with medications. A medical study found that almost 80 percent of women with PCOS treated with the drug clomiphene citrate successfully ovulated. Out of these, half of the women got pregnant naturally within six period cycles.
If medications don’t help you get pregnant, your doctor may recommend IVF treatments. Most women with PCOS have a 20 to 40 percent chance of getting pregnant with IVF treatment. Women who are 35 years old and older or who are overweight have a lower chance of getting pregnant.
You can get pregnant with PCOS. You will likely need to have moderate weight, balance your blood sugar levels, and treat other PCOS symptoms with healthy lifestyle changes and medications.
In some cases, fertility medications alone will help you get pregnant. If that doesn’t work, you may need IVF treatment.
But regardless of what treatment you explore, don’t lose hope. Success rates are optimistic. In time you may be smiling, positive pregnancy test in hand.