Getting pregnant if you have polycystic ovary syndrome -- better known as PCOS -- can present a challenge. PCOS, which affects as many as 5 to 10 percent of women of childbearing age, according to a March 2008 "Fertility and Sterility" article, affects the production of hormones essential for getting pregnant. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends lifestyle changes as a first-line therapy in treating infertility associated with PCOS.
Effect of PCOS on Fertility
If you have PCOS, you have an excess of male hormones, called androgens. While the ovaries of all women produce androgens, an overabundance of androgens disturbs the balance of other reproductive hormones, such as estrogen and luteinizing hormone. These hormones are necessary for the development and maturation of an egg each month. You cannot get pregnant if you do not produce and release a mature egg from the ovary. Anovulation, one of the hallmarks of PCOS, is the single most common cause of infertility, according to the textbook "Effectiveness of Assisted Reproductive Technology." Women who do not ovulate have irregular or absent menstrual cycles.
Weight loss is the first-line therapy in treating PCOS-related infertility. Approximately 50 percent of women with PCOS struggle with being overweight or obese, notes a July 2002 review of the condition published in the "International Journal of Obesity." Excess weight causes more fertility issues in PCOS because the extra fat tissue promotes insulin resistance, which in turn fosters excess androgen production. Obese women with PCOS have higher levels of androgens than nonobese women with PCOS. Losing as little as 5 percent of your body weight can induce ovulation so you have a chance of becoming pregnant, according to a consensus report published in the February 2008 issue of "Fertility and Sterility."
Losing weight is a positive step, but changing your diet and eating in a way that keeps your blood glucose stable also play a part in improving PCOS symptoms and regulating your menstrual cycle. A diet that emphasizes carbohydrates with a low glycemic index, or GI, may benefit women with PCOS. Low-GI foods take longer to break down and digest, keeping your blood glucose levels stable longer. Simple sugars tend to rate high on the GI scale, while high-fiber foods and other complex carbohydrates rate low. A study published in the May 2010 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that 95 percent of women with PCOS who followed a low-glycemic diet experienced an improvement in regulating menstrual cycles, compared to 63 percent of the group who consumed a healthy conventional diet. Talk with your doctor about the possible benefits of following a low-glycemic-index diet.
Exercising regularly is another positive step that a woman with PCOS can take to increase her chances of getting pregnant. Exercise plays a role, because it helps a woman lose weight and keep it off, which helps regulate her hormones and minimize the symptoms that lead to infertility, such as anovulation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' practice guidelines recommend starting with exercise and weight loss as therapies for inducing ovulation. Take any physical limitations or health problems such as cardiovascular disease into account before starting an exercise program. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
- Fertility and Sterility: Consensus on Infertility Treatment Related to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: National Guidelines Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- Women's Health: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Weight Management
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Effect of a Low Glycemic Index Compared with a Conventional Healthy Diet on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- International Journal of Obesity: Obesity and the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- ACOG Practice Bulletin: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- Effectiveness of Assisted Reproductive Technology; Evan R Myers, et al. (eds)