Everyone’s body reacts to environmental factors in a unique way. Whether it’s stress at work, less physical activity, or poor eating habits, lifestyle changes can affect the equilibrium of your body. A natural process is specifically susceptible to these changes is your period. The menstrual cycle is a cascading roller-coaster of rising and lowering hormone levels, like the ocean crashing against the rocks. However, it’s important to understand whether irregular periods are due lifestyle factors or if you may have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
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What are hormone levels?
Two hormones that naturally oscillate during the menstrual cycle are called luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). These hormones originate from the part of your brain called the pituitary gland and are released to the ovaries. In a regular cycle, a surge of LH creates a signal that leads to ovulation and the release of an egg. As the egg travels down the fallopian tube and settles in the uterus, it is met by a thick, cushy lining. The uterus produces this lining after a signal from the sex hormone called Progesterone, which in turn is initiated by a surge of FSH.
When someone has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, it means the ovaries are not getting the correct signals from the pituitary gland. This is because of an imbalance of hormones. The culprit of this imbalance is the LH – levels of LH in people with PCOS remain constantly high throughout the cycle, so no further surge in LH can occur. Without an LH signal, ovulation does not occur and periods become irregular. For individuals with PCOS, irregular periods could mean they happen too close together, too far apart, or not at all.
Does PCOS mean I have harmful cysts in my ovaries?
A myth about PCOS is that someone will have many cysts on their ovaries that are harmful and need to be removed. The definition of a ‘cyst’ is a small fluid-filled sac. These sacs are actually follicles that are underdeveloped eggs that cannot mature because ovulation doesn’t occur frequently enough. Some people with PCOS have many cysts on their ovaries, while others have none at all. Whatever the case may be, there is no need to fear! These cysts are not harmful and do not need to be removed unless they become engorged in the ovaries.
Additionally, endometriosis can impact your fertility. If this tissue grows in your fallopian tubes, ovaries, or other reproductive areas, you may struggle to get pregnant. What’s happening here? This tissue becomes thick throughout your menstrual cycle. It also bleeds, similar to the tissue in your uterus. This is the main cause of inflammation, pain, and discomfort associated with endometriosis. It is also one of the main reasons why you might have difficulty conceiving. This inflammation and tissue growth can interfere with your natural anatomical set-up, leave scarring in your fallopian tubes, impair egg implantation, and more.
However, there is good news! About 70% of women with endometriosis get pregnant – without any treatment required (more on this in a bit).
Why do I have extra hair on my body?
Another biological response that occurs with PCOS is the production of the male sex hormone, androgen testosterone. All normal menstrual cycles produce a little bit of androgen, however, with PCOS, the levels are higher than normal. Extra male hormones can further disrupt the ovulation cycle and can lead to increased acne or hair growth on the face and body. Skin cells are extremely sensitive to changes in hormone levels.
Will PCOS affect my fertility?
75% of people with PCOS experience infertility. However, PCOS does not affect the health of your eggs or uterus, so there are many treatment options and alternate methods to increase your chances of getting pregnant. Some non-medication treatment methods include reducing one’s weight and exercising for 30 minutes every day. This reduces the risk of cysts in the uterus from swelling too large. Physical activity decreases the amount of insulin your pancreases secretes which lowers androgen levels in the body.
Maintaining a low-carbohydrate diet is a great way to improve overall health, and lower insulin levels from the pancreases. Other medication treatments can help your body induce ovulation or reduce the levels of androgen. Many people with PCOS find success with in-vitro fertilization, as it eliminates the uncertainty of waiting for ovulation. Artificial insemination takes a healthy egg, fertilizes it, and places the egg in the healthy uterus to let the body’s natural process take over from there, hopefully leading to a successful pregnancy!
If you are exhibiting some of the signs and symptoms of PCOS and are worried about getting pregnant it’s vitally important you find out with is happening inside your body. Wondering about whether you have a condition will raise your stress levels and impact your mental health. Stress will cause a further imbalance of hormone levels in your body and can impact the chances of even the most fertile people from getting pregnant. That is why it’s extremely important to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.