What is PCOS?
It is estimated that between 5% and 10% of women of childbearing age have PCOS. Approximately five million women in the United States may be affected. Although PCOS is usually diagnosed in women in their twenties and thirties, girls as young as eleven can potentially develop the symptoms.
If a woman has PCOS, her ovaries are enlarged and her unbalanced hormones cause small cysts to grow on her ovaries, and while these cysts are not cancerous, they can be painful during ovulation or even cause irregular periods. If left untreated, PCOS can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
PCOS makes it more difficult for women to get pregnant. The untimely cessation of ovulation leads to PCOS and pregnancy issues.
What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?
The symptoms of PCOS are usually quite pronounced:
- Very oily skin, acne, extra body hair, thinning hair on the scalp
- Weight gain or trouble losing weight due to metabolism issues
- Irregular periods that can be heavy, fewer than nine in a year or they may cease altogether
- Fertility problems
- Pelvic pain
- Depression, anxiety, or eating disorders
- Gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis — severe liver inflammation due to fat accumulation
- Metabolic syndrome — increased blood pressure, increased blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels that significantly increase your chance of cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes — PCOS and diabetes sometimes go hand-in-hand
- High levels of androgen and insulin resistance, even after menopause
- Sleep apnea
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Endometrial hyperplasia (thickened uterine lining)
- Cancer of the uterine lining
What Causes PCOS?
The cause of PCOS isn’t clear, but factors may include:
- Elevated levels of male hormones
- High levels of insulin—a hormone that regulates how the food you eat is changed into energy and used by your body.
- Higher than normal levels of androgen (male sex hormone) which are associated with extra body hair and hair loss
- Lower than normal levels of estrogen (female sex hormone)
How is PCOS Diagnosed?
Your Viva Eve gynecologist will perform a few tests and take a detailed medical history in order to come up with a correct diagnosis.
- A physical exam to look for extra body hair
- Blood pressure
- A glucose tolerance test
- A blood test to check cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- A determination of the body mass index (BMI)
- Lab tests to check blood sugar, insulin, and other hormone levels
- Other tests to rule out thyroid or other glandular issues
- Pelvic ultrasound to look for cysts on your ovaries
- Sleep study to check for obstructive sleep apnea
- Screening for depression and anxiety.
How is PCOS Treated?
There are several treatment avenues available to help alleviate not only the underlying cause of PCOS, but also many of its symptoms.
Treatments for the condition may include:
- A PCOS diet that’s low in carbohydrates and high in vegetables and fruits
- The PCOS diet that helps control weight gain while strengthening your immune system
- A regular exercise program, such as walking or swimming
- Cessation of smoking
- Birth control pills to help with many of the symptoms
- Metformin to regulate your periods
- Fertility medication if you are trying to get pregnant with PCOS
- Progestin therapy, which is an estrogen replacement therapy
- Spironolactone, which blocks effects of androgen on your skin
- Eflornithine cream to slow hair growth
- Clomiphene, an oral anti-estrogen medication
- Letrozole, a breast cancer treatment that can stimulate ovaries
- Gonadotropin, hormone medicine
- Electrolysis, a needle with electric current that damages and destroys hair follicles
- Counseling or support groups that can help you deal with PCOS symptoms
- Ovarian drilling to puncture and destroy a part of an ovary to reduce the hormone androgen
- Surgery, as a last resort in some cases, to remove unusually large cysts
Your Viva Eve doctor may continue to monitor you for signs of your most worrisome symptoms, such as the relationship between PCOS and diabetes. Your liver condition, ovulation phases, cholesterol and triglyceride levels may also be monitored over time. There is no cure for PCOS, but you can treat your symptoms. The key is to maintain constant communication with your doctor.
If you want to overcome the condition, it is important that you follow your doctor’s instructions regarding care and lifestyle changes. At the same time, make sure you speak up about what does and does not work for you. You and your doctor will work as a team to help you feel much better.