Could scientists have found a cure for PCOS?

It’s incredibly common, but little has been known about what causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Now scientists in France think they may have found the solution. They believe PCOS may be triggered by exposure to high levels of Anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) in the womb which may overstimulate brain cells and raise the level of testosterone in the body.

Experimenting on mice, the researchers were able to reverse the effect of the AMH by using a drug which can be used to control hormones and they are now planning to trial this in women. If it works, it could be a solution to restore ovulation in women with POCS.

PCOS is a very common condition, and women who experience it have a number of symptoms often may include irregular periods, excess body hair, weight gain, oily skin and cysts on the ovaries. Many, but not all, experience difficulties trying to conceive and PCOS is often a cause of fertility problems. You can read more about the new research in New Scientist here.

Why exercise is good for you

A new study suggests that “vigorous” exercise may be linked to an improved chance of getting pregnant, but that more gentle exercise doesn’t seem to make the same difference. So, what counts as “vigorous”? Apparently that’s exercise like jogging, running, football or aerobics which leaves you out of breath, and you have to do more than four hours a week!

You can read more about it on the NHS Choices website – and the results are interesting. If you are obese, the vigorous exercise thing doesn’t work, but instead more moderate exercise such as walking does. As NHS Choices points out, assessing how likely it is that these results are actually widely applicable and correct can be difficult as the results were slightly odd. It isn’t clear why exercise only counts if you do more than four hours a week, or why walking makes a difference to obese or overweight women but not to any others. It is also not clear what they women ate, or whether their weight changed during the study as these factors could make a difference – as could any existing fertility problems so it may be that one of these other factors was in fact responsible.

It does, however, add to the growing body of evidence that keeping active is a good thing!

Thank you Fertility Fest!

I have spent the past few days at Fertility Fest at the Bush Theatre in London, and wanted to thank Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier for organising such a wonderful and inspiring event. It was a unique opportunity for people affected by fertility problems and treatment, for those working in the fertility sector, for those who have families not created in the traditional way, for academics and for the general public to come together and to learn and be inspired. It was absolutely fabulous!

I met amazing artists and so many inspiring and interesting people doing all kinds of different work to help and support others in different ways. It was a real honour to be involved. A special thank you to the lovely Saskia Boujo and everyone I shared a panel with – artist Gina Glover, Dr Kay Elder, Sally Cheshire, Dr Roy FarquharsonMaria Da Luz Ghoumrassi, Dr Shantel Ehrenberg, Barbara Scott, Jane Denton, Anna Furse, Nina Klaff, Drunken Sailor Theatre Company, Victoria Macdonald, Foz Foster, Tabitha Moses, Professor Lesley Regan, Professor Simon Fishel, Yvonne John, Sue Macmillan, Carmel Dennehy, Tracey Sainsbury, Fiona Duffelen – to Paula Knight who was unable to be with us but sent a video – and of course, to those wonderful women Jessica and Gabby who have created something really very special!

If you’ve had successful IVF treatment…

If you are based in or near London, you may be interested to know about a very special parents and babies group taking place on Wednesday lunchtime at the Bush Theatre as part of the amazing Fertility Fest. The Life and Lunch meeting is just for IVF parents and babies and is an opportunity to discuss candidly and confidentially, how it feels to become a parent after you’ve struggled to conceive. It is being facilitated by Saskia Boujo, Founder of My Beehive and creator of the ‘IVF and Proud’ merchandise brand; Helen Daviesauthor of More Love To Give about her story of secondary infertility; and Gabby Vautier, Co-Director of Fertility Fest and mum of IVF toddler twins.

I will also be there with five free copies of my book “Precious Babies – Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting after Infertility” to give away! Come and join us – it promises to be a fabulous session.

For anyone pregnant after fertility treatment

I’ve heard from so many people recently who are pregnant after fertility problems who are full of anxiety and feel their pregnancies, which ought to be joyful, are being tainted by the worries from the time spent trying to conceive. Women then blame themselves once again for not being “normal”, but this is a perfectly understandable response to finally finding yourself pregnant after fertility problems. You may find it hard to have faith that things are going to be all right when you have become so accustomed to them not being all right.

It may be helpful to know that there is a closed Facebook group which I look after for the patient charity Fertility Network UK which is just for people who are pregnant after fertility problems which you can find at https://www.facebook.com/groups/Pregnancyafterinfertility/

The other resource which may be helpful is a book I wrote because I felt so strongly about the lack of understanding for people who are pregnant after fertility problems. It’s called Precious Babies – Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting after Infertility and you can buy it from Amazon. It goes from the positive pregnancy test right through birth and early parenthood to interviews with adults conceived by IVF and I hope it helps you realise that you are not alone and that others feel the same way after fertility problems.

 

Join the Women’s Network

If you haven’t yet put in your application, you have until Monday 7 May to apply to join the brilliant Women’s Network at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The RCOG Women’s Network is a dynamic committee which lies at the heart of the College’s work to improve the health of people who use obstetric and gynaecological services. The lay women on the Network ensure the views of the public impact meaningfully on women’s  experience of healthcare services and their treatment outcomes.

As a member of the Network you will work collaboratively with other Network members, doctors and RCOG staff to inform the College’s activities from the public perspective. Membership is a voluntary opportunity which requires significant time and commitment, however brings rewarding benefits and the chance to influence care and services in the areas of fertility, pregnancy and birth, menopause and gynaecological conditions.

You can find out more about the role here, but if you’re enthusiastic with a keen interest in women’s health and if you are dedicated to making a difference, come and join us!

Get Lippy

It may feel slightly off-topic, but actually it isn’t… Today I want to talk about gynaecological cancers as I spent this morning at the launch of a fantastic new campaign by the brilliant charity The Eve Appeal aimed at encouraging everyone to speak out about the signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers without embarrassment.

Called Get Lippy, the campaigners are working with a number of key beauty brands who will give a donation to the appeal for one of their featured lipsticks, lip balms or lip glosses during the month of May. The money raised will be spent on vital research into early diagnosis and treatment.

So where does fertility come into this? For many women affected, it is one of the key issues as even when the treatment offered is successful at treating their cancer, it can leave them unable to conceive. The Get Lippy campaign calls on everyone to speak out loudly about the signs and symptoms so that more women can be diagnosed as early as possible and more of them will have a positive outcome.

The retailers supporting the Get Lippy campaign are Tesco, Harvey Nichols, Space NK and Oliver Bonas and the brands include Vaseline, Hourglass, Bali Balm, EOS, Elemis, Lipstick Queen and Smashbox.

Athena Lamnisos, Chief Executive of the Eve Appeal said, “We are thrilled to be working alongside such a breadth of powerful brand partners and beauty names for Get Lippy and their support is so important in making these health issues easier to talk about. Challenging taboos and raising awareness, the Get Lippy campaign will be a huge boost towards funding for The Eve Appeal\s pioneering research to save women’s lives through early detection and prevention of all five gynaecological cancers. We all need to Get Lippy this May, and every May from now on.”

Every day in the UK 58 women are diagnosed with one of the five forms of gynaecological cancer – womb, ovarian, vertical, vulval and vaginal – affecting more than 21,000 women and their families every year. You can find out much more about the signs and symptoms of each of these cancers on The Eve Appeal website so that you can Get Lippy and join the campaign!

Thinking of having treatment overseas?

If you are considering going abroad for fertility treatment, you may be interested in this article I wrote for a supplement for The Times earlier this week.

For many people, going overseas can be a cheaper option, and many return with positive stories about their experiences, but you do need to be aware of the facts and understand the differences you may find if you choose to have treatment outside the UK.

There are some great clinics across the globe, but there are also some that are not quite so great and you don’t have the protection that you have here in the UK of knowing that all  clinics offering IVF are licensed and regularly inspected by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. As you don’t have that luxury with clinics elsewhere, you do need to make sure you do your homework and research as much as you can about the clinic and the country to ensure that you are left feeling that you did the right thing in choosing to travel for treatment.

Are you coming to Fertility Fest?

Fertility Fest is the world’s first arts festival dedicated to fertility, infertility, modern families and the science of making babies – and you really ought to be there!  It promises 150 artists and fertility experts in a week-long programme of events, entertainment, discussion, debate, support and solidarity.

It runs from 8 – 13 May at the Bush Theatre in London, and has the most amazing array of sessions. You will find Izzy Judd – wife of McFly’s Harry Judd and author of the bestselling memoir Dare to Dream – talking about their experiences of fertility treatment and trying to conceive. There’s a session on the often overlooked male experience of infertility with a screening of a film about a man whose relationship breaks down as a result of infertility and a documentary film about men’s experiences of infertility. You could listen to poet Julia Copus performing her poetry cycle which was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award or  film-maker Katie Barlow sharing excerpts from her ongoing documentary film-project. In a session on pregnancy loss, award-winning visual artists Foz Foster and Tabitha Moses will explore their experiences with Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and one of the world’s leading voices on miscarriage. And on Wednesday 9th May, there’s a special event entitled ‘There’s More To Life Than Having Children’ hosted and chaired by Fertility Network UK’s Catherine Strawbridge.

One exciting series during the festival is the ‘Fertility Fight Club’ in which leading artists and fertility experts including Professor Geeta Nargund (from Create Fertility), Jody Day (Founder of Gateway Women the friendship and support network for childless women) and writer and theatre-maker Stella Duffy will give ten minute provocative talks about things they want to change about the world of fertility and infertility. These will be live streamed so that people can participate from their armchair at home and from anywhere around the world.

This is just a tiny taster of the huge range of different events during the week – have a look at the full programme on the Fertility Fest website www.fertilityfest.com and tickets (£10 – £35 plus a wide selection of FREE events) can be booked from the Bush’s box office https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk

Just relax…

For anyone with any experience at all of fertility problems, there’s a general understanding that probably the worst thing someone can say to you is “just relax…”, and yet this is the advice a TV doctor gave on ITV’s Lorraine programme. Dr Hilary Jones apparently said to a caller who was asking for advice after three unsuccessful rounds of IVF;  “What I would say is, and this is probably the hardest thing to do, is just relax about it. There have been so many people that I’ve known who’ve gone through several rounds of IVF and nothing happens. And when they’ve given up, and gotten on with their lives, it miraculously happens naturally… Sometimes stress itself can have a very negative effect. So try living your life as normally as you can.”

I suppose this just shows why you should stick to asking fertility specialists for advice rather than a TV doctor, but there has been an understandable backlash from fertility patients and the charity Fertility Network UK. There is certainly a lesson to be learned for TV producers about the risks of getting a GP, who is by nature a generalist rather than a specialist, to offer advice to those who have already been treated by experts in any field of medicine. But should any doctor, even if they are a GP rather than a specialist, be telling people to “just relax” or suggesting that stress might be to blame for infertility? Apart from anything else, we all know that fertility problems cause huge amounts of stress – and that telling someone who is trying to conceive to “just relax” is about as helpful as telling them to get a dog, go on holiday or any of the other helpful advice that non-experts in the field like to pass on.

There is another problem here though, and that’s to do with blame. Suggesting that your stress levels might be responsible for your blocked fallopian tubes or endometriosis is nonsense, and yet many people do end up feeling that it’s their fault they can’t conceive in a culture which encourages you to believe that you can make the difference to outcomes by thinking positive, clean eating or complementary therapies. The truth is that none of these things are going to unblock your tubes or get rid of endometriosis, and for a medical professional to suggest that getting pregnant might miraculously happen naturally if you just relax is quite bizarre.

Even the response has been interesting, with Woman & Home covering the issue with a headline “Lorraine’s Dr Hilary faces backlash following ‘insensitive’ comments during IVF discussion’. They were not ‘insensitive’ comments but insensitive comments – and that’s the understanding that we still need to change!

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