16 Apr PCOS? Read our 10 tips to boost your fertility
Got PCOS? You’re not alone. Polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormone disorder, affects around 1 in 10 women. It also affects fertility – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Menstrual problems, weight issues and long-term health problems are common. Plus, not all pregnancies are plain-sailing when you’ve got PCOS.
Now the good news. PCOS is treatable. It’s manageable. Patients with PCOS can still have children. But it takes perseverance and discipline to take on your polycystic ovaries and improve your chances of a successful pregnancy. So we’ve done our homework. We’ve looked at the research. We’ve spoken to PCOS patients. And we’ve come up with 10 great ways PCOS sufferers can boost their fertility.
1. Reduce your weight – don’t just watch it.
Multiple ovarian cysts and enlarged ovaries are the key characteristics of PCOS. Another is weight gain. You need to work hard to keep the extra pounds at bay. Even a modest drop in your BMI will improve your fertility and general health, chiefly by reducing insulin and androgen levels. Aim low – losing half a pound each week is perfectly achievable.
2. Follow a nutritious diet – not just a diet.
Okay, we know you’ve heard it all before, but a healthy diet is paramount. PCOS sufferers get heavier quicker. So a tip-top nutrition regime is vital. That’s true for an IVF diet too. Don’t dilly-dally by the salad counter: see a dietician. Reduce your carbs and eat low-GI (or GL) foods. Ditch the fruit juice and cake. Eat more fresh fruit, vegetables and fibre. Choose lean meat. Lower your fat intake and wave goodbye to those sugary drinks. Your dietician should draw up a weekly eating plan. Our best advice? Stick to it like glue.
3. Move more – a great diet isn’t enough.
Exercise is essential for reducing blood-sugar levels and insulin resistance. Your low-GI, low-carbohydrate food regime won’t do that on its own. Walk swiftly, 30 minutes a day, every day, without fail. That, and the new diet, will reduce your weight steadily and effectively. You could start ovulating quicker than you think.
4. Medication – it’s a given for PCOS.
PCOS patients can get acne: not nice. To fight it, buy benzoyl peroxide at your pharmacy. If that doesn’t work, ask your doctor for antibiotics. As for the big stuff, consider taking Metformin, which lowers insulin levels and testosterone. That should mean more regular bleeds, better-functioning ovaries and a return to egg production. Current NHS guidelines say you can take clomifene (Clomid) at the same time as Metformin. Both boost pregnancy rates.
5. Birth-control pills – a great way to get pregnant?
If you’ve got PCOS, birth-control pills can control your menstrual pattern. These should be monophasic (combined) pills. But here’s the thing. Consider taking these as a prelude to trying for a pregnancy. Obviously you’ll need to stop taking them to initiate a cycle, but you may just get lucky and achieve a pregnancy in the following month. Of course, if you try IVF, you could be put on BCPs to control and time your bleed in advance of your FSH medication. BCPs and pregnancy? Opposites really do attract.
6. IVF – a final helping hand.
PCOS sufferers who’ve tried medication, lost weight, improved their complexion and controlled excess body hair, and who still don’t fall pregnant, should consider IVF treatment. Your protocol and medication will take careful account of your PCOS and the increased risk of OHSS (ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome). That might mean your embryos are frozen and transferred a couple of months later – a sensible OHSS-avoidance scheme.
The thinking behind the IVF route is this. You’re producing poor-quality eggs. IVF creates more of them. The extra ones give the clinic more room to manoeuvre in terms of an increased chance of higher-grade eggs. IVF also limits the risk of multiple births associated with other fertility treatments (e.g. IUI and Clomid) aimed at PCOS patients.
7. Reflexology – PCOS’s best-kept secret?
Alternative remedies for PCOS shouldn’t be sniffed at. They’re cheap, steroid-free and generally safe. And reflexology may just be the solution PCOS patients need. Trials exploring the benefits of reflexology on PCOS are currently underway in the US and UK. Many patients report more regular periods and a sense of wellbeing. Placebo effect? Maybe. But don’t wait for the research: try it this week and see if it helps.
8. Surgery – laser that testosterone away.
Another option for PCOS patients (who have lost weight and had unsuccessful IVF) is surgery. Sounds drastic, but hear me out. Ovarian drilling is a laparoscopic technique, often using lasers. It destroys testosterone-producing tissue in your ovaries. Less testosterone means better fertility health: ovulation, menstruation and egg production. It’s a newish technology, but it’s helped many patients. Discuss with your doctor.
9. Sort out that stress.
There’s no doubt that stress is bad. Patients with fertility problems, let alone PCOS, have a right to feel angry and frustrated. But it doesn’t help. Lower stress levels can control PCOS symptoms. So try that massage, take that walk, watch those re-runs of Mad Men. It may make all the difference.
10. Counselling always, always helps.
At Your IVF Journey, we’ve big fans of fertility counselling. We had it ourselves and we often recommend it to our patients. Talking about PCOS, fertility and anything else on your mind really does help you to cope with the surprising range of emotions infertility throws at you. Fertility likes happy minds. Why not give it a try?
So those are our top 10 tips on ways PCOS patients can improve their fertility prospects. Read our top tips for reducing the risk of OHSS here.