How Does PCOS Create Pregnancy Complications? (High Risk and Birth Defects)

How Does PCOS Create Pregnancy Complications? (High Risk and Birth Defects)

Did you know that women with PCOS have a higher rate of pregnancy and delivery complications? Babies of PCOS women have more birth defects.

Much is known about the effects of PCOS on the women who have it. But does PCOS affect the risk for pregnancy complications? Or the babies born to women with PCOS?

An enormous new study sheds some light on this topic with some very surprising new information.

What is PCOS?

PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome, is the most common cause for ovulation problems in women in the United States. It's a syndrome which means that there are lots of possible different symptoms but not all women will have the same signs and symptoms.

pcos pregnancy complications problems

Health risks of PCOS we knew about

We have known for some time that women with PCOS will commonly have a problem called insulin resistance. Since insulin helps control your blood sugar during pregnancy, women with PCOS are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.

We have also known that women with PCOS have a higher chance for developing high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Recently, using a large database of over 9 million births, researchers tried to expand our knowledge about PCOS. Here's what they found:

PCOS is becoming more common

First, it appears as though PCOS is being diagnosed more commonly in pregnant women, between 2004 and 2014, the prevalence of PCOS increased by over six-fold.

This could be because PCOS is becoming more common or it could be because doctors are just diagnosing it more commonly. Or, because we are getting better at helping PCOS women to become pregnant.

PCOS and obesity

22% of women with PCOS were obese. This is 7 times more likely than non-PCOS women.

High blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid disease before pregnancy

They were almost 5 times more likely to have high blood pressure or over 8%. And 4 times more likely to have diabetes before pregnancy or about 4%.

high blood pressure PCOS pregnancy

None of that is surprising. However, women with PCOS were also 5 times more likely to be receiving treatment for thyroid disease. That was not known before.

It's important to know about these pre-existing conditions because they can influence the likelihood of pregnancy and delivery complications.

The researchers in this study used statistical methods to adjust for those problems, so they could isolate the effects of PCOS alone.

Several delivery complications

Women with PCOS were more likely to experience several different complications related to the delivery of babies.

For example, they were more likely to see their bag of waters rupture before going into labor. And they were 37% more likely to have a pre-term delivery.

They were 63% more likely to have a very scary problem where the placenta separates from the uterus known as an abruption. Abruptions result in bleeding which can affect both the baby and the mother.

Women with PCOS were 50% more likely to have a cesarean section.

In another surprising finding, women with PCOS were about 60% more likely to develop a uterine infection at the time of delivery or shortly thereafter. This could require antibiotics given through an IV.

Birth defects

What about the babies that were born? It turns out that nearly twice as many babies had birth defects if their mothers had PCOS. Doctors have known that diabetes increases the risk for birth defects. But this is the first study to show a higher risk for women with PCOS, after controlling for the effect of diabetes.

We do not have an explanation for why women with PCOS have more babies with birth defects.

pregnancy success rate PCOS

Our bottom line is this

Women with PCOS are more likely to have severe health problems before they become pregnant and they are more likely to develop serious health problems during pregnancy.

These problems can also affect the health of the babies. In addition women with PCOS have almost doubled the chance for birth defects as women without PCOS.

The absolute risk however is still small.