Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is an imbalance of the sex hormones, often resulting in higher than normal levels of male hormones called androgens.
Understanding Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome occurs during the reproductive years. The Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association estimates 5 to 10 percent of all women suffer from PCOS, making it the most common female endocrine disorder.
Women with PCOS may experience enlargement of the ovaries and develop multiple fluid-filled sacs or cysts on the ovaries. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome ranges in severity from mild to severe and is one of the leading causes of infertility. However, with treatment pregnancy may be possible.
Heredity is thought to play a role in PCOS, since women are more likely to develop polycystic ovarian syndrome if her mother or a sister has been diagnosed with the condition.
Causes of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
It’s not clear exactly what causes polycystic ovarian syndrome, but excess insulin levels are thought to play a role. When a woman produces too much insulin it could trigger the ovaries to produce androgen, leading to problems with ovulation. Eggs that are not released remain in the ovaries until eventually cysts form around them.
Androgen production may also be stimulated by inflammation.
Symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic ovarian syndrome symptoms often start soon after a young woman has her first menstrual period, and the majority of women who develop PCOS experience symptoms before age 25.
Multiple signs and symptoms are associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome including the following:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Excess hair growth on the face or body
- Darkened skin in groin, neck, armpits or breasts
- Male-pattern baldness
- Polycystic ovaries
Diagnosing Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
If polycystic ovarian syndrome is suspected, your gynecologist will perform a physical examination along with a pelvic examination to evaluate the health of your reproductive organs. An ultrasound may be done to assess the ovaries for enlargement or cysts and blood tests may be ordered to evaluate androgen and other hormone levels including LH (luteinizing hormone), FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), and testosterone.
Additional tests may also be performed to rule out other conditions or diseases.
Treatment of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
There is no cure for polycystic ovarian syndrome, but it is possible to manage the condition through diet, regular exercise and medications prescribed by your OBGYN.
Some medications used in the treatment of PCOS:
- Birth control pills – to decrease androgen production and regulate periods
- Progesterone therapy
- Metformin – a medication to lower insulin levels and treat insulin resistance
- Clomiphene – an anti-estrogen medication that assists with ovulation
- Gonadotropins – injectable medications that stimulate ovulation may be given to women with PCOS who wish to become pregnant and don’t respond to clomiphene
If you are overweight, losing weight may improve ovulation and help regulate hormone levels. A reduced-carbohydrate, high-fiber diet is also recommended along with daily exercise.