Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is a common endocrine (hormonal) disorder in women of reproductive age. Some women with PCOS have small cysts on their ovaries, but not all do.
How common is PCOS?
It is estimated that about 30% of women have symptoms related to PCOS. Of those women, about 10% are diagnosed with this disorder. PCOS is a leading cause of infertility and is responsible for about 75% of ovulation-related infertility.
What causes PCOS?
The cause of PCOS is unknown. However, women with PCOS usually have a female family member who also suffers from the disorder. Studies are looking into relationships between PCOS and the body’s ability to make and manage insulin. It is possible that when a women’s body makes too much insulin, the ovaries counter-act by producing too many male hormones, called androgens.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
The symptoms range from woman to woman, but usually include some or most of the following:
- Small cysts on the ovaries or enlarged ovaries
- Irregular Periods
- Infertility and Miscarriage
- Elevated Male Hormone Levels
- Excessive Body Hair, especially on the lower abdomen and face
- Hair Loss and Thinning Hair
- Trouble Managing a Healthy Weight
- High Blood Pressure
- Impaired Glucose Tolerance, Insulin Resistance, Hyperinsulinemia, and Type II Diabetes
- Chronic Pelvic Pain
- Skin Tags
- Sleep Apnea
What health problems are associated with PCOS?
PCOS is mostly a problem for the ovaries, the condition changes the hormone levels of women, which has implications throughout the body. One of the biggest problems with PCOS is weight gain. Most women with PCOS will become obese at some point in their lifetime. Further, insulin resistance and diabetes can cause problems such as excess production of insulin, impaired glucose tolerance, and Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, women with PCOS tend to suffer from heart disease and hypertension, uterine cancer, sleep apnea, hirsutism, and infertility.
What tests are used to diagnose PCOS?
There is no single test to diagnose PCOS. Often Dr. Heard or your physician will note irregular periods and check for abnormal hair growth during examination. Your doctor will probably do a blood test to confirm high levels of male hormone helping to make an accurate diagnosis of PCOS.
I have PCOS, will I be able to get pregnant?
Women with PCOS who have irregular, infrequent, or absent periods are unlikely to ovulate, which is the cause of infertility. Because of abnormal hormone levels the lining of the uterus may not facilitate a fertilized egg to attach and grow.
The good news is that problems with ovulation can often be corrected with medications. These include ovulation stimulants and drugs to regulate insulin. Even a small amount of weight loss can improve fertility and when used in conjunction with medication, the chances of conceiving are good. If medications and weight loss are not helping, other treatments like laparoscopic surgery may help to stimulate ovulation.
Is pregnancy with PCOS associated with higher complications?
Yes. There appears to be a higher instance of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, and premature delivery in women with PCOS.
I am not wanting to get pregnant, how can my PCOS be treated?
PCOS can be well managed through diet, exercise, weight loss, and medications. Dr. Heard or your physician might try any of the following to manage your PCOS:
- Birth Control Pills
- Diabetes Medications
- Fertility Medications
- Medications to counter-act increased hair growth or male hormones
- Weight Loss
Is there a cure for PCOS?
Unfortunately, no, but it is a condition that can be managed. There are many treatment options available and you can work to help alleviate symptoms starting today with a healthy diet, exercise, and weight loss. Whether your symptoms range from minor and annoying to detrimental in trying to conceive, it’s important to begin a treatment plan to help reduce your chances of health-related consequences in the future.