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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS):
What It Is and How It Affects Fertility

2003 Angela K. Dotson (Lawlor)


I was diagnosed with PCOS in 1987 at the age of nineteen. (The condition was then called Stein-Levanthol Syndrome). At the time of my diagnosis there was no literature available to the public. My doctor told me it was “just a fertility issue.” Now most doctors agree it is an endocrine disorder that can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and endometrial cancer as well as infertility. Because there was so little written material available I began compiling a book to answer my own questions. I still get e-mails from women desperate for answers. My goal is to inspire other women with PCOS to fight back with lifestyle changes.

WHAT IS PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is an endocrine disorder often resulting in multiple cysts on the ovaries. Some of the symptoms are infertility, acne, excess hair growth, absence of menstruation, weight gain (particularly in the belly area) and an overproduction of insulin which can lead to other serious conditions such as insulin-resistance, diabetes, heart disease and endometrial cancer. A conservative 5 to 10 percent of all women in the United States suffer from PCOS.

HOW DOES PCOS AFFECT FERTILITY?
Many women with PCOS do not have regular periods. Multiple cysts on the ovaries can make it difficult for the egg to be released normally. There have been reports of higher incidences of miscarriages, (possibly due to improper hormone levels).

IS IT POSSIBLE TO GET PREGNANT WITH PCOS?
Most women with PCOS will need medical intervention in order to achieve pregnancy. For some women, a daily regime of glucaphage (metformin) is enough. For other women, additional measures such as fertility drugs (clomid, for example) or invitro fertilization may be required. I am currently trying to achieve pregnancy myself. I’m waiting for my next period to start on the second round of clomid on an increased dosage. My husband and I have already discussed the possibility of adoption if all of our efforts to get pregnant fail. It is important to establish with your partner a timeline and “range of effort.” Trying to get pregnant is stressful if everything goes the right way. PCOS can add more stress and you may have to take additional drugs. For example, I had to take progesterone before my first cycle of clomid because I had not had a period in four months.

I THINK I MAY HAVE PCOS. WHO DO I SEE?
PCOS has often been a misunderstood condition. Doctors often treated only the symptoms. You will need to search for a reputable doctor who is familiar with the condition. Endocrinologists are a good bet but you may need a referral from your primary health care provider depending on your insurance. If you are trying to achieve pregnancy try to see a reproductive endocrinologist. If your doctor dismisses your concerns or refuses to perform hormonal tests, seek another physician. Also seek another doctor if your doctor seems to have never heard of the condition or does not want to provide a referral.

You might want to take the quiz put together by the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association (www.pcosupport.org/support/quiz.php) and take the results with you when you visit your physician.

RESOURCES: For more information contact The Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association (
www.pcosupport.org) or Conceiving Concepts (http://www.conceivingconcepts.com) or www.pcos.net. The author, Angela Dotson, also answers e-mail questions from her internet site www.pcosbook.com.

About the author: Angela K. Dotson (Lawlor) is the author of “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Fighting Back!” (Sparhawk Health Publications, November 2002). Find out more about this book and Angela’s background at
www.pcosbook.com.

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