September is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month. PCOS is a syndrome that is characterized by overproduction of androgen (male hormones). It can also cause cysts to grow on the ovaries. PCOS does have a hereditary component and occurs in approximately 10% of women. PCOS is still relatively misunderstood by the medical field and the general public. However, it is very likely that someone you know is dealing with PCOS!
Symptoms and diagnosis
No two women with PCOS present the same way; everyone experiences it differently. Symptoms can include:
- Irregular periods
- Abnormal hair growth on the face, chin, chest, abdomen, or thighs (known as hirsutism)
- Weight gain
PCOS is usually diagnosed by lab testing and symptoms. A pelvic ultrasound can detect cysts on the ovaries but this is actually not necessary for diagnosis. PCOS cannot be cured but symptoms can be managed.
I have PCOS. Now what?
Treatment for PCOS targets the symptoms that one is experiencing.
As with many health conditions, lifestyle changes can help. Weight management through diet and exercise will often improve symptoms.
Many women will be started on birth control pills to help regulate the menstrual cycle and control the overproduction of androgen. This, in turn, will help reduce acne and abnormal hair growth.
Metformin is a drug used for Type 2 Diabetes but is sometimes used in PCOS to help regulate the menstrual cycle.
As for problems with infertility, medical assistance is often needed. However, not everyone with PCOS experiences infertility. There are medications available to induce ovulation or procedures such as in-vitro fertilization may be necessary.
PCOS does put you at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and Type 2 Diabetes. This is, in part, due to the presence of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when the body’s cells do not respond to the effects of insulin. It is important that women with PCOS have their cholesterol and fasting blood sugars tested yearly to assess their risk of aforementioned disorders. Maintaining a healthy weight is also very important.
If you have PCOS and are pregnant, it is very important that you maintain good prenatal care with your health care provider in order to screen for potential complications such as gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, and preterm birth.
Of note, PCOS can be managed by either an endocrinologist or your OB/GYN. This is not usually treated by your primary care provider however he or she can give you a referral.
For more information, check out MedlinePlus! It is my hope that people in general become more familiar with PCOS and the overwhelming effects it can have on a woman and her family.
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Disclaimer: Information contained in this post should not be substituted for medical advice. If you think you are having a problem, contact your own provider who knows your health history.