Whether you’re wanting a baby now, sometime soon or indeed *ever*, it goes without saying that fertility is an important part of women’s health, so learning as much as we can about our own fertility is always a good idea.

National Fertility Awareness Week (October 30 – November 5) aims to raise awareness and change perceptions of fertility issues – raising funds to provide much-needed support for the 1 in 6 couples in the UK who struggle with infertility.

Today we hear all about PCOS, one of the most primary causes of infertility in women, and the signs to look out for.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition affecting how a woman’s ovaries work. The condition causes the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone to become imbalanced – making periods rare or irregular, creates a high level of androgen in the body, and is responsible for polycystic ovaries – where the ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs.

How common is it?

According to the NHS, around 1 in every 5 women in the UK have PCOS, with symptoms often appearing in late teens or early twenties. For sufferers, it’s comforting to hear celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Jools Oliver share their experiences of living with the condition, especially as they’ve gone on to have big families.

What are the symptoms?

There are a collection of symptoms associated with PCOS – these can include irregular or missing periods, unwanted/excessive hair growth, struggling to get conceive, acne, weight gain and depression.

Are there any other risks?

Infertility, diabetes (by the age 40, it thought that 40% of women with PCOS will develop pre-diabetes or diabetes), breast and uterine cancer, and heart conditions are some of the health risks that can be associated with PCOS. But there’s no need to panic because polycystic ovary syndrome can be monitored and managed to minimise these risks.

So, how can PCOS be treated or managed?

At present, there isn’t a cure for PCOS. PCOS can make it harder to get pregnant, but it is possible with extra help.

Having a nutritious and healthy lifestyle by eating well and starting a regular exercise plan, can help manage PCOS. GPs would agree that reducing weight through a healthy diet and by taking exercise can prove crucial in boosting the chances of conception. Exercise can also kickstart the metabolism, whilst keeping your weight down also reduces your risk of miscarriage and diabetes.

Any nutrition tips to recommend?

It’s advisable to make the following adjustments to your diet if you have PCOS, not only for weight loss and maintenance but also to regulate insulin levels.

  •   Eat a high fibre diet including broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, beans, lentils and almonds
  •   Eat plenty of lean protein including eggs, fish and chicken
  •   Reduce inflammation with plenty of tomatoes, kale and spinach
  •   Cut out refined carbs such as white bread and white flour to only provide 30-40% of your total calories
  •   Reduce your sugar intake

What else can be done?

Taking the contraceptive pill can help with irregular periods and women with PCOS can be offered Clomid – a medication that encourages ovulation – when trying to conceive. Research has also shown that there can be beneficial benefits from taking Inofolic, a medication called that contains myo-inositol and folic acid and is used to help improve metabolic and hormones disorders, regulate menstrual cycles and improve fertility outcomes.

“If you're unable to get pregnant despite taking oral medications, a different type of medication called gonadotrophins may be recommended – these are given by injection. An alternative to gonadotrophins is a surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD), where the ovaries are be surgically treated using heat or a laser to destroy the tissue that's producing androgens (male hormones). LOD has been found to lower levels of testosterone and luteinising hormone (LH) and raise levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This corrects your hormone imbalance and can restore the normal function of your ovaries,” says the NHS.

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