How Polycystic Ovary Syndrome affects Women’s fertility

September marks Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) awareness month and with this condition affecting millions of women in the world, there are some key facts about the condition to highlight that can affect a women’s fertility when suffering with the disorder.

PCOS is a very common yet extremely complex condition, and has a huge effect on a woman’s self esteem with some very unpleasant symptoms, which can have a dramatic effect on her appearance. The condition runs throughout families, is one of the leading causes of infertility and can lead to additional health problems later on in life such as heart disease and diabetes if it isn’t properly managed.

Some 20% of women suffer with Polycystic Ovaries, which describes ovaries that have small cysts just below the surface. These cysts are egg-containing follicles that are immature, meaning ovulation rarely happens and these women struggle to conceive. However, there are many successful treatment options to help women with this condition conceive, and even if a woman doesn’t want to have children it is still very important to have the condition managed to avoid further health problems developing.

It is believed that this condition is caused by abnormalities in the hormones that control the menstrual cycle. The cysts themselves are not harmful and don’t need to be removed, however some women who have less than four periods a year can be susceptible to their womb lining becoming too thick. These women may be helped with medication such as the oral contraceptive pill, progesterone tablets or the progesterone releasing coil.

Diagnosis is determined through a hormone test and an ultrasound of the ovaries.

Because of the issues with some women being insulin resistant, this can lead to the other health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. Most women with PCOS can manage their symptoms through a healthy diet and exercise programme to help their condition. When a woman’s weight is within a healthy BMI for her height then she has more chance of normal ovulation and therefore pregnancy.

If a woman is suffering with more than one of the symptoms then the condition is classified as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which affects between 5-10% of women.

Symptoms vary in women; some only have mild symptoms whilst other may have more severe symptoms.

Symptoms of PCOS can include:

• Irregular periods less than 21 days or 35 days apart, heavy bleeding or a complete lack of periods
• Irregular ovulation or no ovulation at all
• Reduced fertility, difficulty becoming pregnant or recurrent miscarriage
• Excessive hair growth on the body and face
• Acne and excessive oily skin
Alopecia, hair loss from the scalp or thinning hair
• Weight problems – rapid weight gain, being overweight, difficulty losing weight
• Depression and mood swings

Dr. Juliet Skinner, Head Clinician at Barbados Fertility Centre, treats many women from the Caribbean who suffer with PCOS. Local couples benefit from treatment at Barbados Fertility Centre because of the high success rates and lower treatment costs.

Dr. Skinner said, “PCOS is a very common condition and even if a patient only experiences mild symptoms, it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible. Many factors affect a woman’s ability to conceive, and PCOS can be a major contributor to infertility. The sooner the condition is diagnosed the sooner women can be advised on their options for medication and in extreme cases, assisted reproduction. Maternal age plays a big part in successful treatment and therefore I urge women who may be suffering to seek help sooner rather than later.” For more information on the work of Barbados Fertility Centre, please log on to

The condition was first discovered in 1935 by Dr. Stein and Dr. Leventhal and was for many years known as Stein-Leventhal syndrome. Research into the condition continues as the medical profession looks at the best way to manage symptoms and tries to identify a gene for PCOS. So far it is known that women suffering with this condition have a higher level of the hormone testosterone and that some women are resistant to the production of insulin to level out glucose in the blood. It isn’t known whether women are born with this condition, but it is known if the condition is passed from the male side of the family then while the male may not suffer with infertility, they are likely to be bald before the age of 30.

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