Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common female reproductive disorders that affects approximately 5% - 10 % of women between the ages of 15 to 45 years. PCOS is one the most common causes of infertility. PCOS is a condition in which there is an imbalance of a woman's female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) as well as hormones called androgens. In women with PCOS, the ovaries make more androgens than normal. Androgens are male hormones that females also make. High levels of these hormones affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation. The symptoms of PCOS most often begin with the onset of menstruation but can begin earlier with the preteen years or can develop at any time during a woman's childbearing years.This hormonal imbalance may cause several problems for women. These problems are usually seen as symptoms of the disorder which may include:
- obesity and weight gain
- acne, oily skin, dandruff
- irregular/absent periods
- excess hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, back, thumbs, or toes (Hirsutism)
- skin discolorations
- multiple small cysts on the ovary
- elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance
- anxiety or depression
- sleep apnea
- skin tags (excess flaps of skin in the armpits or neck area)
Although the susceptibility to PCOS is often inherited the exact cause is unknown. However, researchers think that insulin may be linked to PCOS. Many women with PCOS have too much insulin in their bodies because they have problems using it. Excess insulin appears to increase production of androgen. In women with PCOS, the ovary doesn't make all of the hormones it needs for an egg to fully mature. The follicles may start to grow and build up fluid but ovulation does not occur. Instead, some follicles may remain as cysts. For these reasons, ovulation does not occur and the hormone progesterone is not made. Without progesterone, a woman's menstrual cycle is irregular or absent. Plus, the ovaries make male hormones, which also prevent ovulation.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
- Your doctor will ask you about your menstrual periods, weight gain, and other symptoms listed above.
- Your doctor may also perform a pelvic exam to visually and manually inspect your reproductive organs for signs of masses, growths or other abnormalities.
- Your blood may be drawn to measure the levels of several hormones to exclude possible causes of menstrual abnormalities or androgen excess that mimic PCOS.
- A pelvic ultrasound may also be performed to show the appearance of your ovaries and the thickness of the lining of your uterus.
Treatment of PCOS
Currently there is no known cure for PCOS. However, PCOS can be managed through various mediums. Treatment may be dependent on the symptoms present and also whether or not the patient is trying to get pregnant.
- The most effective treatment for PCOS is weight loss if you are currently overweight. Even a 10% decrease in weight will help to alleviate some of the symptoms and may also increase fertility. Most doctors will recommend reducing simple sugars in the diet and increase your intake of fiber, protein and vegetables. Moderate exercise will also help to stabilize blood sugar levels and thus insulin levels.
- If the patient is not interested in conceiving immediately, oral contraceptives may be recommended to regulate the hormonal imbalance.
- Another form of treatment is metformin (glucophage), which is usually recommended for diabetic patients to regulate glucose and insulin levels. However, this treatment has been effecting in aiding PCOS patients with weight loss.
It is important to seek treatment for PCOS as early as possible as this disorder can have long term effects if ignored. If you have many symptoms of PCOS, we recommend a visit to your doctor. Be prepared to answer questions about your menstrual cycle. If you are diagnosed with PCOS, prompt treatment will relieve symptoms and increase fertility rates. For more information, we recommend the support group Soulcysters