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Published:November 1st, 2006 03:24 EST
Leading Causes of Infertility for Women

Leading Causes of Infertility for Women

By Hannah Coone

How many women do you know have irregular periods? Quite a fair amount, I`ll bet. A lot of us will put it down to stress, not enough sleep or, because of the frequency of fad diets today, we blame it on our eating habits. There could, in fact, be a medical reason for those with irregular periods. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, also referred to as PCOS or Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, is a syndrome that affects as many as 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, most of which aren`t even familiar with the disorder, let alone know they have it. 

PCOS can affect a woman intensely because it not only creates problems with her menstrual cycle, but also her hormones, fertility and her appearance. This is with an addition of unusually high level of androgens, the male hormones. A high amount of PCOS sufferers also have small cysts on their ovaries. There are many symptoms of PCOS that are very distressing for women. These include: increase of abnormal hair growth on the face and body, weight gain or obesity which is difficult to lose, acne, oily skin, dandruff, patches of thick and dark skin on the neck, arms, breasts, or thighs, skin tags and excessive snoring.  

PCOS has been identified for over 75 years and there is still no known cause of PCOS. There are frequent cases of PCOS sufferers having a Mother or sister with PCOS. But, to be able to prove there is a genetic link, there is not yet enough evidence available. As said, a lot of sufferers have a weight problem; there is research being done to investigate the relationship between PCOS and the body`s ability to make insulin. PCOS sufferers produce too much insulin in their bodies and it is thought that the ovaries react by producing an excess of male hormones. An excess of male hormones then leads to acne, unsightly hair growth, weight gain and ovulation problems. 

So why are there ovulation problems? Women with PCOS have ovaries that fail to produce all the hormones the eggs need, for any of them to mature. The eggs will grow but fill with liquid and remain, becoming cysts, on the ovaries. Since none of the eggs reached maturity, or were released, ovulation stops, which prevents the hormone progesterone from being made. Progesterone is the hormone that keeps a woman`s cycle occurring regularly. It is also this process that creates the male hormones, which in turn prevents ovulation.

What can be done for PCOS sufferers? Well, there is not yet an actual cure for this syndrome. But there are treatments available in forms of medication, changing ones diet and exercise. These can control a lot of the unpleasant symptoms that PCOS women have to suffer with. Treatment differs from each patient because it depends on what symptoms are present, as each sufferer doesn`t carry exactly the same problems as the next. It also depends on if the patient would like to become pregnant or not.

If you are not ready to start a family, patients are usually given birth control to regulate their menstrual cycle and to reduce the amount of male hormone levels. There are many types of birth control available, some of which have the side effect of weight gain and some may actually cause ovarian cysts, which for PCOS sufferers, would not help in treating their symptoms. Some sufferers are prescribed with Metformin, which many know is used to treat Type 2 diabetes. Metformin helps with PCOS symptoms; by affecting the way insulin regulates glucose, which then decreases male hormone production. This slows down unsightly hair growth, and could also regulate ovulation.

Some women choose to see a specialist to help with the abnormal hair growth and they are given medication specifically for that purpose. Some suffers take a hormone treatment which stops the hair from growing, whereas some will keep it simple and opt for laser hair removal or electrolysis. Many doctors will at first encourage obtaining a healthy weight because this can help manage PCOS. This lowers glucose levels to use insulin more efficiently, which reverts ovulation back to regular. It is said that even a 10% loss in body fat can help regulate a woman`s cycle. 

If you want to become pregnant, PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility in women. Some doctors may tell you to try naturally for a period of months and if you don`t succeed, that is when they will start with fertility treatment. The man should have his sperm count checked and the woman should have her tubes cleared of any blockages. There are various pills and shots given to help ovary stimulation and there are also IVF treatments available for PCOS sufferers. 

It should be well noted that pregnant women with PCOS tend to have a higher rate of miscarriage, premature delivery and pregnancy-induced high blood pressure. There is current research into whether Metformin can help reduce the chances of these happening whilst pregnant. Although, there is no evidence that Metformin is safe for pregnant women to take, as the drug crosses the placenta, which raises concerns that the drug affects the baby. 

PCOS can put sufferers at risk of other conditions. The absence of ovulation and the irregularity of their cycle cause women to produce the hormone estrogen, but not progesterone. Without producing progesterone, this causes the endometrium to shed each month as a period, which then causes the endometrium to become thick. This can cause heavy or irregular bleeding which can eventually cause endometrial hyperplasia or cancer. PCOS sufferers are also at risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. To prevent these, it is best to get the symptoms under control at an early age, and it is recommended to have blood sugar, insulin and cholesterol checked once a year.  

To obtain a diagnosis, the patient is usually given various examinations. A pelvic ultrasound is taken to see if there are ovarian cysts. You are also expected to take blood tests. Blood tests can check the levels of insulin, and also the levels of male hormone production. It is important to note that having irregular periods does not mean you necessarily have PCOS. A full medical examination needs to be undertaken to make a correct diagnosis.

If a lot of this related to you, make notes of symptoms you have and get to your doctor to start the examinations, so you are not at risk later on in life. Also, remember this is a syndrome that affects 1 in 10 women, so you are not alone.  

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