PCOS and Pregnancy

PCOS and Pregnancy Risks and Complications

Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, afflicts between 3 and 15% of women of reproductive age. The disorder presents a number of symptoms including weight gain, abnormal hair growth, acne, and infrequent ovulation. More importantly, PCOS often presents a significant barrier to fertility. Many women with PCOS have a very difficult time conceiving, and when they do conceive, miscarriages are common.

Unfortunately, fertility is only the first hurdle for women with PCOS. Once a woman with PCOS does conceive, PCOS and pregnancy present a whole new set of challenges. PCOS increases the risk of a number of specific complications, and while these complications aren’t extremely common, it’s wise for expectant mothers to be aware and prepared for the potential problems.

Miscarriage

While the full underlying cause is not fully understood, PCOS tends to bring a higher risk of miscarriage. Research points to a couple of factors that may be responsible for this.

First, PCOS typically causes longer menstrual cycles. Since ovulation occurs later than usual, the developing egg is exposed to – and possibly damaged by – unusually large amounts of hormones.

A second cause may be found in the insulin resistance that is common to many women with PCOS. Researchers have suggested that uncontrolled blood sugar may lower the quality of the woman’s eggs, thus leading to miscarriage.

Gestational Diabetes

While all pregnant women are screened for gestational diabetes at 20 weeks of pregnancy, a woman with PCOS is at higher risk of developing the condition because of the PCOS link to insulin resistance and pre-diabetes. If you are pregnant with PCOS, it’s very important to discuss this aspect with your doctor so that your blood sugar levels can be carefully monitored throughout your pregnancy.

Babies born to mothers with unmanaged gestational diabetes may be born prematurely and many end up suffering from a number of conditions including respiratory issues, low blood sugar, jaundice, and overweight. In addition, women with gestational diabetes are at higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes later in life.

Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension (PIH)

High blood pressure is a common problem for women with PCOS, and this puts them at greater risk of developing pregnancy-induced hypertension. PIH, or preeclampsia, can be very serious if it is not caught immediately. Symptoms of PIH can progress very quickly if left untreated, and can turn into the more severe eclampsia. This condition can cause seizures, neurological damage, kidney failure and liver and blood problems. In the worst cases, both mother and child can die as a result.

An expectant mother with PCOS should carefully monitor herself for any symptoms of PIH. If she experiences rapid weight gain, swelling, vision changes, or severe headaches, she should see her doctor immediately. In addition, she should discuss the potential risk with her doctor so that he can regularly check for signs of high blood pressure.

Reducing Risks

These potential problems might sound scary, but here’s some good news: PCOS is manageable. By making healthy lifestyle choices, you can control or prevent the risks involved in PCOS and pregnancy.

Many women with PCOS are overweight, and this single factor can exacerbate potential problems in PCOS and pregnancy. Losing weight and then maintaining a healthy weight is a huge part of managing PCOS symptoms before, during, and after pregnancy.

Since blood sugar and hypertension are common problems, follow a low GI diet. Eat whole, healthy foods that are low in sugar, salt and saturated fats, and cut out refined carbohydrates.

Regular exercise will also greatly help in managing PCOS symptoms. Daily exercise – especially resistance exercise – has proven effective in reducing cholesterol, increasing insulin response, fighting obesity, and improving fertility.

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2 Responses to PCOS and Pregnancy

  1. Ashley on January 13, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    I have a question, I hope you can help me. I’ve been diagnosed with PCOS; however, I was able to conceive naturally, without using fertility drugs or treatments. Do these risks you mentioned still apply? If so, what can I do during my pregnancy to prepare for or preempt any complications?

    Ashley

  2. Jennifer Myers on January 16, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    Hi Ashley,

    [Please note my medical disclaimer].

    Congratulations! That’s wonderful news – and even better, that you were able to do so naturally!

    The first thing you absolutely must do is inform your doctor. While you may have gotten pregnant without a doctor’s help, it’s unwise to let your pregnancy go unmonitored. As mentioned, PCOS sufferers have a miscarriage or pre-term birth rate of between 45-50%. This factor, combined with the others discussed in the article, make it very important to receive extra pre-natal care.

    If you are overweight, dropping the excess pounds will definitely reduce the risk of miscarriage, high blood pressure, and the chance of having an overweight baby. Maintaining a healthy weight throughout pregnancy will also help to keep your hormone levels balanced, and this will help with normal embryo implantation and development. Again though, discuss this factor with your doctor right away, as he will be able to recommend the best eating and exercise regimen for your particular case.

    As mentioned earlier, it’s also very important to have your blood pressure monitored at regular intervals. Keeping a close eye on your blood pressure will help your doctor catch diabetes or preeclampsia, and treat the conditions before they can get serious.

    Don’t worry too much though. It’s understandable to have a bit of anxiety about a PCOS pregnancy; but by taking good care of yourself and your little one, and staying calm, you can easily carry the baby to term and have a smooth delivery. Just stay well-informed, and communicate regularly with your doctor.

    All the best !!!

    Jennifer