PCOS and infertility – is it time for a more joined-up approach?

There has been a steep rise in the number of patients with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome being seen at IVF clinics, according to Prof Arpita Ray, Regional Lead Consultant at Bourn Hall’s Essex clinics. PCOS is a common reason for infertility, and is caused by a hormone imbalance.

It is estimated that around one in ten women of reproductive age in the UK have PCOS – and that 70% of those with the condition don’t know they have it.

PCOS difficult to diagnose

Prof Ray, who has an extensive research background in PCOS, says: “PCOS is a complex syndrome which produces a wide variety of symptoms which can make it difficult to diagnose and treat.

“Patients often report having seen different specialists over a number of years for treatment for various symptoms – acne, excessive facial hair, weight gain, heavy periods – without the realisation that the problems all have the same cause.”

Dr Arpita Ray, Regional Lead Consultant at Bourn Hall’s Essex clinics
Prof. Arpita Ray, Regional Lead Consultant at Bourn Hall’s Essex clinics

PCOS and infertility

As well as being a common cause of infertility there is also some evidence to suggest that PCOS may be linked to a greater risk of miscarriage in fertile women.

Prof Ray would like to see a multi-disciplinary holistic approach towards the condition.

“I would like to see greater communication between the people involved with the various disciplines – the dermatologist, the endocrinologist, the gynaecologist, and a dietician – together with the GP and the patient at the centre. This should help the condition to be spotted earlier, which can then make it easier to manage.

“For women with PCOS that struggle to lose weight, support could include nutritional advice and a new exercise regime, to boost metabolism and help weight loss and provide long term health benefits.”

Strategies for improving nutrition and gaining a healthy BMI will be discussed at the Fertility Support Group Meeting

PCOS cause of recurrent miscarriage

Childhood sweethearts Donna and Chris thought that getting pregnant would be easy. It was only after trying for a baby for ten years and losing four pregnancies that Donna was given advice that helped her to have a baby.

When Donna was 21 the couple were pleasantly surprised when they found out that she was unexpectedly pregnant.

“I was nervous but happy; we hadn’t been trying for a baby at that point,” she reveals.

“Then at six and a half weeks I miscarried and I surprised myself at how upset I was.”

Over the next five years Donna got pregnant three more times – and each time miscarried around the same stage of six and a half weeks.

“I had been to see my GP after my first miscarriage but was told that it was something which was pretty common,” continues Donna. “But after my fourth miscarriage I went back because something was clearly wrong. I am someone who doesn’t dwell on things and tries to keep strong but without realising it I had become really affected and it had put a strain on both of us.”

Serious lifestyle changes

She was referred to hospital and it was then that Donna was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a common condition that can cause weight gain, impact fertility and increase the risk of miscarriage. The consultant urged her to make some serious lifestyle changes.

“I was carrying too much weight. I suddenly realised that if I really wanted a baby I was going to have to do something about it, and a new-found determination really kicked in.”

Over the course of the next year she lost two stone in weight. When she went back to her GP the results of her lifestyle changes were evident and the couple were referred to Bourn Hall, where they had successful IVF treatment: in December 2015 Ronnie was born.

Every September PCOS support charity Verity asks people to paint one nail purple to represent the estimated 1 in 10 affected by PCOS. To find out more visit the PCOS Awareness month website, by Verity – The UK PCOS Charity

PCOS and infertility - painting a nail to raise awareness
Painting one fingernail to raise awareness of PCOS

More information

Find out more about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and PCOS Awareness Month.

If you are concerned that you might have a condition such as PCOS or just want to learn more about your fertility – book a free consultation with a fertility nurse specialist.

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