Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a common gynecologic condition affecting about 5-7% of women. Typical symptoms include irregular menstruation associated with symptoms of increased male hormone, included but not limited to problems with acne, increased facial hair growth, hair loss from the scalp, or abnormal body odor. PCOS can also make it hard to get pregnant.
What causes PCOS?
The main issue behind PCOS is hormonal dysfunction in women. Once a month, the female ovaries create follicles. These follicles mature and eventually rupture to releasae an egg. This process is known as ovulation. In PCOS, follicles are created but none of them become mature enought to release an egg. This can create abnormlities in hormone levels and cause the cycle to become irregular among other thing.
Common Symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular cycle intervals occuring more than 35 days
- Problems with weight gain
- Abnormal hair growth in places more typical for men to grow hair i.e. upper lip, face, chin, chest, abdomen
- Loss of hair from scalp
- Problems with acne
Additionally, women with PCOS are more likely to develop the following medical complications:
- High Cholesterol Levels
- Heart Disease
- Sleep Apnea
- Uterine Cancer
Treatment for PCOS depends on the individual and associated symptoms or medical problems. Diet and exercise should always be the first treatment option and can be helpful at improving the overall condition and risk for medical problems. If you are overweight or obese, losing 5-10% of your body weight is helpful in treatment. Most treatment options, however, aim to improve symptoms and not offer a cure for the condition. Frequent pregnancy tests if any missed periods in sexually active women can be useful to prevent a delay in diagnosis of pregnancy. Annual blood tests for male hormones, diabetes and cholesterol screening is important. The following medications may be recommended as well:
- Birth control – useful in regulation of menstrual cycle and may help regulate male hormone as well
- Progestins – also useful in regulation of menstrual flow and protective against uterine cancer
- Anti-androgens – useful in regulation of male hormone abnormalities
- Metformin – useful to regulate abnormal sugar levels. May help regulate cycle and works in about 50% of women who use it.
- Medicated skin lotion, acne treatments
- Laser Therapy for unwanted hair growth
Can I get pregnant if I have PCOS?
Most women with PCOS are able to get pregnant but others may need assistance. The first option if you are experiencing difficulty in conceiving is to start with diet and exercise. If you are overweight, losing weight can help make your periods regular and improve your chances of getting pregnant. Other women may need referral for assistance getting pregnant.