Causes of Polycystic Ovarian Disorder
The exact cause of polycystic ovarian disorder is unknown, although many factors seem to play a role in the development of the condition, including:
- Insulin resistance – a condition affecting the body’s ability to utilize insulin. The pancreas responds by releasing more glucose, leading to high blood sugar levels
- Increased androgen levels – High levels of androgens disrupt the ovaries’ ability to release mature eggs and prevent ovulation. Elevated androgen levels can also lead to excess hair growth and acne
- Menstrual irregularities – multiple small cysts that develop on the ovaries when follicles grow, but ovulation fails to occur. The follicles instead remain, and cysts form.
Heredity may also play a role since women whose mother or sister has polycystic ovarian disorder are also more likely to develop the condition.
Symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Disorder
There are many symptoms associated with polycystic ovarian disorder, but not all women experience every symptom. Common symptoms include:
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Weight gain
- Hirsutism (excess hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, or upper thighs)
- Oily skin
- Severe acne
- Multiple ovarian cysts
- Thinning hair or male pattern baldness
- Dark skin patches
Diagnosing Polycystic Ovarian Disorder
The majority of women are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 30. If you are suspected to have the condition, your gynecologist will likely perform a medical history and physical exam that includes a pelvic examination.
Blood tests may be done to determine hormone levels and blood glucose levels. And a pelvic ultrasound may be performed to evaluate the ovaries and uterus.
Treatment of Polycystic Ovarian Disorder
Treatment depends on the symptoms a woman has and whether or not she wishes to become pregnant. Treatment categories include:
- Weight loss – even a small weight loss can reduce hormonal imbalances
- Dietary changes – Increasing fiber intake and reducing simple carbohydrates such as the ones found in many processed foods, desserts and soda
- Low-dose, combination birth control pills containing both estrogen and progestin regulate the menstrual cycle and decrease androgen levels
- Insulin-sensitizing drugs – the same drugs used in the treatment of diabetes may also be used to treat polycystic ovarian disorder. These drugs can reduce androgens and boost ovulation
- Ovulation medications – women who are trying to become pregnant may be given medication to stimulate ovulation
- Laparoscopic ovarian drilling – surgery performed on the ovaries to stimulate ovulation. Typically done only when medical treatment has failed.