Could You Have PCOS?
What Is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, more commonly known as PCOS, is a condition that affects roughly one out of twenty women who are in their childbearing years. It is the most common type of endocrine disorder.
This disorder causes an imbalance of hormones. Women and men both produce male and female hormones. A female will produce much more progesterone and estrogen (female hormones) than testosterone and androgen (male hormones). A male will produce very little estrogen and progeterone. What happens with PCOS is that the woman's body produces too much of the male hormone, androgen. Women with PCOS do not ovulate or ovulation will occur infrequently.
PCOS is not a disease, rather it's a disorder that may cause an array of health problems if left untreated. PCOS runs in families. Usually a mother, grandmother or aunt will have the condition as well. It's unknown why some women have PCOS, although some medical experts believe it is caused by the body's resistance to insulin. Although it is called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, it's assumed that women with PCOS will have cysts in her ovaries, however some women with PCOS do not.
Some women are diagnosed in their 20s or early 30s. Many times PCOS remains undiagnosed until a woman is trying to conceive. There is no cure for PCOS but with proper treatment, many symptoms and future health risks may be prevented.
What is very unique about PCOS is that not every woman will have the same symptoms. Women may have some but not all of the complications associated with PCOS. Three main symptoms that doctors look for are irregular or absence of period (called ammenorhea), ovarian cysts and an over-production of the male hormone androgen. A woman will have at least two of these symptoms to be diagnosed with PCOS.
Some of the physical symptoms, such as acne and facial hair, begin during puberty. This can be very embarrassing and traumatizing for a young girl who is just beginning to develop.
PCOS complications vary from woman to woman. Here are some of the symptoms to look for.
- Excess dark hair on face and body (hirsutism)
- Obesity and difficulty losing weight, especially in the abdomen area
- Baldness or hair loss
- Skin conditions such as acne, skin tags and darkened skin around armpits, neck, breast and groin area
- Small or under-developed breasts
- Deepening of the voice
- Depression / Anxiety
Health Risks Associated With PCOS
Health risks are very high if left untreated. High cholesterol and high blood pressure are common. Women with PCOS are at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and endometrial cancer. However, with proper treatment and medication, these diseases can be prevented.
Losing weight will greatly reduce health risks and may alleviate many symptoms. Doctors will advise patients to exercise. Daily exercise will help to balance hormones. Some other ways you can minimize symptoms and health issues is to follow a balanced diet filled with lots of fruits, vegetables and protein. Limit sugar, sodium and processed foods. Smoking is also much more dangerous to women with PCOS. Patients who smoke are usually advised to quit.
Your doctor will run a series of blood tests to find out if you have PCOS. An ultrasound is also needed to detect ovarian cysts. Cysts are usually not dangerous but may have to be removed if they are too large.
Medication will be needed to control symptoms. Birth control pills are commonly prescribed to women who do not plan on getting pregnant. Spironolactone (Aldactone),flutamide, finasteride or a similar medication may also be prescribed. It takes about six months for the medication to work. You will begin to notice physical changes like regular monthly periods and clearer skin. Excess body hair will stop growing as well once hormones are regulated. There are also prescription medications such as Vaniqa that can help control hirsutism. Medication will control most symptoms.
Stopping medication will bring bring back health risks and symptoms. It's important to stay on medication.
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Pregnancy and Fertility Options
Getting pregnant will be complicated and fertility drugs may be needed. It is possible to bear children, however, women are at higher risk for still births and miscarraiges. Rest assured, many women with PCOS are mothers.
- Clomiphene is commonly prescribed to increase chances of fertilization
- Metformin will sometimes be prescribed and used together with Clomiphene
- Gonadotropins are shots that can be taken. Fertilization is highly likely although multiple births are common. It is also expensive and usually not the first choice.
- In-Vitro Fertilization is the best method, however also the most expensive method.
- Surgery (Ovarian Drilling) is a last resort alternative if all other methods have failed.
A Final Note on PCOS
Unfortunately, there is very little research on PCOS. Even though it is common, most doctors have little knowledge of the disorder. Chances are, you will not get a diagnosis right away. If you suspect you have PCOS, you will need to talk to your doctor and ask for testing. Getting diagnosed and treated early will help prevent future health problems.
If you have PCOS, there is a support group online you can check out. I have also added links below for more articles on PCOS.
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