Creating a family is supposed to be so natural. The wonder of a woman’s body and its ability to create life is nothing short of awesome. When they tell you about sexual reproduction in school, however, they don’t tell you about the things that can go wrong. They don’t tell you that as many as five million American women are affected by something called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS.
PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility, affecting somewhere between four and ten percent of females of child-bearing age. The condition makes it difficult for women to get pregnant because it interferes with ovulation. It is thought to be caused by over-production of a male hormone called androgen (yes, even women have small amounts of male hormones) which causes an imbalance in estrogen and progesterone, the female hormones responsible for ovulation. Normal hormone balance is required for ovulation, when one or more mature eggs per month are released from a woman’s ovaries and travel down the Fallopian tubes. We all remember that from Sex Ed. In PCOS, instead of being released from the ovaries, the eggs stay in the ovaries and form very small cysts there. Periods are often infrequent.
Usually diagnosed when a woman is in her twenties or thirties, PCOS is devastating news to a woman trying to conceive, not only because of its effects on fertility. One of the other symptoms of PCOS is weight gain and obesity. Life just isn’t fair. Difficulty conceiving AND weight gain? That’s just not right. With weight gain come the added symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Approved by the FDA for treatment of Type II Diabetes, Metformin is a medication that is also used to treat women with PCOS with some outstanding results. Because the drug is not approved by the FDA specifically for the treatment of PCOS, physicians may not always feel comfortable prescribing it unless their patients also have diabetes. Metformin works by lowering the body’s insulin levels which reduction restores a more optimal hormonal balance and allows ovulation to occur.
Anecdotally, the Internet is full of chat rooms and online message boards where woman after woman says she conceived within weeks of starting Metformin. Some say their doctors told them the Metformin makes their bodies more receptive to fertility medication. Other women express concern that they miscarried while they were taking the drug, but other PCOS sufferers have reminded them that women with PCOS have nearly a 50% chance of miscarrying so the miscarriage comes with the condition, not the Metformin.
In addition to its positive impact on ovulation, Metformin is reported to help with weight loss, energy levels and a general improvement in sense of well-being. Women diagnosed with PCOS may want to discuss the possibility of Metformin with their doctor.