Weight-loss surgery may treat infertility in some obese women, a new study says.
Six women in the study who were infertile due to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition that can occur with weight gain and cause infertility, became pregnant following weight-loss surgery, the researchers say.
The study was small and more research is needed to confirm the findings. But for women with PCOS, weight-loss surgery may be a cure for infertility, said study researcher Dr. Mohammad Jamal, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
"Many other studies have shown bariatric surgery can improve or resolve a multitude of diseases and conditions," including diabetes, Jamal said. "It appears that infertility now joins that list."
However, infertility experts disagree the surgery is a cure. If women with PCOS regain the weight, their infertility would likely return, said Dr. Beth Plante, a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brown University Medical School who was not involved in the study.
"We wouldn't typically recommend having the surgery just to treat infertility," Plante said.
But she said weight loss through any means has been shown to improve fertility in those with PCOS.
"If this is how a patient chooses to achieve that weight loss, then we would usually encourage that," Plante said.
The study will be presented today (June 15) at the meeting of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery in Orlando.
Infertility and surgery
PCOS is a disorder in which a woman's levels of sex hormones are out of balance, according to the National Institutes of Health. Symptoms include changes in the menstrual cycle, small cysts in the ovaries and infertility. The condition occurs in up to 10 percent of women of childbearing age, Jamal said.
It's not known what causes PCOS. But obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes are common in those with the condition. Women are usually diagnosed with PCOS in their 20s and 30s, but symptoms can begin at puberty, according to the NIH.
In the new study, Jamal and colleagues reviewed the medical records of 20 women who had PCOS before weight-loss surgery.
Six of these women wanted to become pregnant but had been infertile. All six became pregnant within three years of having the surgery.
Seventeen women in the study had irregular periods before the surgery, and 14 of them saw a restoration of their menstrual cycle afterward.
After the surgery, the women lost an average of 60 percent of their excess weight, the researchers said.
The surgery comes with risks, Plante said. For this reason, women with PCOS should only have the surgery if they were already considering it for other reasons, to treat their obesity or other conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes, Plante said.
In addition, because of potential nutrition deficits after surgery, it is recommended women who undergo weight-loss surgery put off trying to conceive until 18 months after surgery, Jamal said.
Obesity itself can pose risks during pregnancy, including the risk of gestational diabetes. So weight-loss surgery can reduce the risk of many pregnancy complications, Jamal said.
Pass it on: Obese women with polycystic ovarian syndrome may be able to become pregnant after weight-loss surgery.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.