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Infertility & Reproduction Health Center

Irregular Periods and Getting Pregnant

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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

A common ovulation problem that affects about 5% to 10% of women in their reproductive years is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that can cause the ovaries not to work. In most cases, the ovaries become enlarged and appear covered with tiny, fluid-filled cysts. Symptoms include:

  • No periods, irregular periods, or irregular bleeding
  • No ovulation or irregular ovulation
  • Obesity or weight gain (although thin women may have PCOS)
  • Insulin resistance (an indicator of prediabetes)
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal cholesterol with high triglycerides
  • Excess hair growth on the body and face (hirsutism)
  • Acne or oily skin
  • Thinning hair or male-pattern baldness

Getting Pregnant When You Have PCOS

If you have PCOS and you're overweight, losing weight is one way to improve your chances of pregnancy. Your doctor also might prescribe medication to lower your insulin levels, since elevated insulin levels -- caused by your body's inability to recognize insulin -- has been found to be a common problem among many women with PCOS. Chronically elevated insulin levels can also lead to diabetes. Women with PCOS may be at higher risk for developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and endometrial cancer, especially if PCOS is untreated.

PCOS can't be cured, but there are treatments available to treat the symptoms of PCOS and the infertility associated with this condition. By stimulating ovulation, especially in women trying to conceive, and treating insulin resistance, regular ovulation and periods often are restored.

A procedure known as in vitro fertilization, or IVF, is another potential treatment for women with PCOS.

Stress and Fertility

For couples struggling with infertility, it's a particularly cruel fact: Not only can infertility cause a lot of stress, but stress can affect fertility. It's known to contribute to problems with ovulation. For many people, the longer you go without conceiving, the more stress you feel. Fears about infertility may also lead to tension with your partner, and that can reduce your chances of pregnancy even further. After all, it's hard to have sex if one of you sleeps on the couch.

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