One of the most common questions I get from women who are newly diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome is "Will I ever get pregnant?" I have not been able to find specific studies regarding fertility and PCOS-likely because it is so hard to track those who are successful in getting pregnant without medical intervention. One source said that women with PCOS have an 80-90 percent chance of having a baby, but I was unable to find any research studies to back this up. While some women with polycystic ovarian syndrome will not be able to get pregnant, I believe that the majority can and do eventually have healthy babies.
First, 5-10% of women of childbearing age have PCOS. If their symptoms are mild they are often undiagnosed. If they have even one child, many physicians will say they can not have PCOS. This is ridiculous if you look at the diagnostic criteria. The most common criteria for diagnosis include a failure to ovulate regularly. However, for many women this means they have long cycles (35 days or longer in many cases) but they DO ovulate.
Some women with PCOS have unhealthy eggs because their periods are too far apart, in many cases this is correctable with herbs, diet or drugs. Many women with PCOS also have a thyroid condition. Frequently, if this is treated they begin to ovulate. Many women with PCOS have frequent miscarriages, but they eventually have a healthy baby-often with the help of progesterone cream or suppositories. Some women find that losing weight, taking vitex or other herbs, or reducing stress cause them to begin ovulating (for me it was all three!). Some learn to detect ovulation through cervical mucus and basal body temperatures (BBT or temperature charting). Again, these women often have healthy babies without medical intervention.
It is hard to know how many women with PCOS become pregnant without help since many women are first diagnosed with PCOS because they are having trouble getting pregnant. Often metformin or other insulin-sensitizing drugs work wonders and they are able to get pregnant and carry a baby to term.
The fact is, only a small percentage of women with PCOS ever make it to the stage of trying fertility drugs. Clomid (clomiphene citrate) is often the first drug of choice since it is cheap and easy to take. I did find studies indicating that Clomid alone works for 70% of women with PCOS. Other women find that they need Clomid and metformin or stronger fertility drugs. The success rate tends to drop a bit as time passes and stronger methods are tried, but the bottom line is that most women who have PCOS and want children have them.
Even for those who are told they will never succeed at getting and staying pregnant, there is much reason to hope. Several close friends of mine have surprised themselves and their doctors by getting pregnant after years of infertility. "Lisa" adopted three children and then found herself pregnant in her late 30's. It seems that for many women their PCOS symptoms mellow out as they get older. "Anne" went to the doctor to find out why she was infertile after several years of marriage-she was 3 already months pregnant and boy number two followed just 15 months later. "Susan" had three miscarriages and was told she would never carry a baby to term. Four months later she was pregnant with her daughter and her son is two years younger. "Barb" got pregnant when she was not even thinking of fertility and now counts herself extremely blessed to have two healthy boys.
I know many women who have done everything possible to get pregnant, even IVF, and have not succeeded. But the majority of women with PCOS DO get pregnant. There is even more reason to hope for the young women who are just now learning they have PCOS. First, they are more likely to be diagnosed at all. This means many women will be diagnosed who would have been overlooked ten or fifteen years ago when my generation was first beginning the march from doctor to doctor looking for answers. We know so much more than we did then. Treatments, both natural and medical, are much, much better than ever. In addition, being diagnosed now means they have the chance to prevent much of the physical and emotional trauma older women have experienced because our doctors just didn't know how to help us.
My advice to any particular woman is to do all you can to increase your fertility (see my other articles and my books for more information about this). Then do your best to relax and let your body work. The odds are with you in the long run.
Julie Renee Callaway is a life coach specializing in helping women cope with PCOS, infertility and other health issues. You can get a free newsletter about PCOS at http://www.pcoscoach.com