What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
When My Daughter Was Diagnosed with PCOS, We Didn't Even Know What It Was
When my daughter started to go through puberty around age 13, we expected the usual changes and problems that all parents of a teenage daughter have. However, by the time she turned 15, she had still not had more than a couple of menstrual periods. We talked to her pediatrician, and she recommended taking her to a pediatric endocrinologist.
An endocrinologist is a physician who studies hormones and the effects that they have on the human body, and any problems or issues that come from abnormal hormone activity.
We made an appointment with a recommended endocrinologist and after various tests and examination, she informed us that our daughter had PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). At the time of the appointment, the doctor had to explain to us exactly what that meant, as we had never heard of it before.
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
PCOS is a condition in women that can appear as early as age 11. Approximately 1 woman in 15 women of childbearing age has PCOS. In the United States, there are about 5 million cases.
Symptoms of PCOS are high levels of androgens, missed or irregular menstrual periods, and cysts in their ovaries. Other symptoms may be one or more of the following - acne appearing on the back, excessive hair growth on the face and body, weight gain, and problems with ovulation.
In my daughter's case, she had the irregular and missed periods as well as some excessive hair growth on her face and arms.
Do you or anyone you know have PCOS?
Causes of PCOS
PCOS is not a disease. It is not contagious or passed to another person by touch. In fact, it has not been determined what causes a woman to develop PCOS. There may be genetic factors, and women who have a mother or sister with PCOS are more likely to have it themselves.
As far as we know, there is no one in our family with PCOS on either side of our family.
What we learned was that if we did not treat the PCOS, in time, my daughter would most likely have trouble having children, and other problems would crop up later in life. Since a hormonal imbalance was causing the PCOS, her hormones needed a kick start to move in the direction they should have been going in.
Having Children and PCOS
Women with PCOS can give birth to children, however they may need aid. PCOS changes the amount of progesterone hormone that a woman's ovaries produce which is needed for eggs to mature and the fetus to develop.
If a woman diagnosed with PCOS has trouble conceiving, fertility may be the issue. Treatments can stimulate the process of egg production. If instead, progesterone is the issue, then she can increase progesterone by taking it orally to protect the fetus. Not every woman with PCOS will need these aids. Her physician can decide if the help is necessary.
Miscarriage, preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure), gestational diabetes and premature delivery are more common in women with PCOS. Babies delivered to women with PCOS have a greater risk of requiring neonatal intensive care.
Controlling and Treating PCOS
There are several ways to control and treat PCOS. These treatments are different for each patient because they do not always respond to every treatment. Also, women have differing degrees of the condition.
For a women the age of my daughter, birth control pills are often used to treat PCOS. She does not want to get pregnant any time soon, and the birth control pills keep her menstrual periods under a regular cycle. However, as each birth control pill is a different combination of chemicals, not all medications work as well as others to combat the various symptoms of PCOS.
Other medications can treat the excess hair growth. In my daughter's case this was necessary because the first medication did not treat both symptoms. When she decides to have children, this treatment will have to be changed.
PCOS is a lifelong condition. It is not curable.
PCOS is also shown to be related in some way to high sugar levels and diabetes. Studies have shown that women who reduce their weight have less symptoms of PCOS. Many women who have PCOS also have high insulin levels which may be the cause of too much androgen in their system.
Weight Loss and PCOS
It is interesting to note that physicians have observed that even a 10% weight loss can have a very positive effect on PCOS symptoms. While many women with PCOS are overweight or obese, this is not true of all cases.
In my daughter's case, she was about 20 pounds over her ideal weight per the medical charts, and she has been working to lose that weight. Her doctor told her that even just losing 5 or 10 pounds would make a difference in her symptoms.
Therefore, often weight loss techniques are part of the treatment of PCOS, up to and including bariatric weight loss surgery.
Other Health Problems Associated with PCOS
Women may develop other health problems over their lifetime if they have PCOS. These problems include higher risk of heart attack, pre-diabetes before the age of 40, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, anxiety and depression. They are also at risk for endometrial cancer.
Dr. Marilyn Glenville on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) & Fertility
More Information on PCOS
- American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE)
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
- InterNational Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, Inc. (INCIID)
- Women's Health Research, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH, HHS
© 2014 Paula Atwell