Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a metabolic condition occurs when the body produces excess androgens (male hormones), excess insulin or has low-grade inflammation. There are many genetic and environmental factors that come into play with this condition. If a woman is obese, does not get adequate exercise, or has a family history of the disease, she has a greater chance of developing this disorder.
PCOS has links to the endocrine system. It typically affects women between the ages of 18 and 44, and can cause infertility. The condition isn’t just a modern-day issue. Historical documents show that women experienced the symptoms as long ago as 1721 in Italy. Today, anywhere from 2 to 20 percent of women in the reproductive-age will develop polycystic ovaries.
What Are The Signs and Symptoms of PCOS?
One underlying cause of this condition is insulin resistance. The body produces excessive amounts of insulin to control the sugar, which is mostly caused by being overweight. All the excessive insulin causes overactive productions of both testosterone and androgen, both male sex hormones.
A woman may not know she has PCOS until she tries to get pregnant. Others will notice their periods are late or do not show up at all. If women do not have at least nine periods each year, then they are diagnosed with oligomenorrhea. Those who do not have any cycles for three months are experiencing amenorrhea. Both issues can occur with polycystic ovaries or without.
Another PCOS symptom is called hirsutism, which is when hair develops on the chest or chin. Not all hormone imbalances that cause abnormal hair growth are automatically diagnosed as PCOS, however; some medications or imbalances can also cause hair growth. Three out of four women with PCOS experience thinning hair or hair loss, much like male-pattern baldness.
How is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Diagnosed?
An estimated 70 percent of all affected women have not been diagnosed with PCOS. A gynecologist might suspect PCOS when a patient talks about loss of periods, abnormal hair growth, losing hair, high blood pressure or acne. It is one of the most common female infertility issues.
A medical professional will perform a pelvic ultrasound to detect the cysts on the ovaries that could be a risk factor for PCOS. Ovarian cysts are not necessarily indicative of PCOS; other conditions can cause them, and some cysts are benign.
A gynecologist will make a final diagnosis if the patient’s blood tests show elevated androgen levels, the ultrasound shows ovarian cysts and the patient displays the other symptoms listed above.
Managing polycystic ovarian syndrome is not easy, but it can be done. It is not curable, but treatment can help. Not even a hysterectomy will resolve the the issues.
Laser hair removal or waxing can remove the excess hair. Insulin resistance can be treated with medication such as Metformin. Birth control can help balance the hormones and make periods regular.
Many infertile women with PCOS can have children when they jump-start their system by losing weight. Many women notice that their symptoms improve, and their bodies will begin to ovulate with even a 10 percent reduction in weight. Though the condition will not go away, management can make a substantial difference.
The Dangers of Not Treating Polycystic Ovaries
Women who have PCOS are at a greater risk for diabetes, endometrial cancer and heart disease. Many women may feel that the infertility issue is the most important to combat, insulin resistance is by far the most important aspect to treat.
Having A Baby with Polycystic Ovaries
Having a baby is the biggest hurdle for those suffering from this condition. Because women with polycystic ovaries do not ovulate regularly, getting pregnant is difficult. There are many fertility drugs that can stimulate the body to ovulate. There are also other treatments like IVF to help.
Women with PCOS have a higher risk of miscarriage during the first trimester than other women. Studies have shown that taking Metformin during pregnancy can help reduce the risk. Another concern is developing gestational diabetes. About four percent of all women with PCOS will develop this condition. Anyone who is over the age of 35 and overweight will have increased risks.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can be a lot to deal with, and having a great gynecologist who understands how to treat the condition can help. Though it doesn’t fully go away, it can be effectively treated and managed with the right medications and diet.
Dr. Crystal M. Newby, MD is a physician at Kansas City ObGyn. She received her medical degree from the University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Medicine. Dr. Newby married her fellow Kansas native high school sweetheart and they have 3 daughters.