PCOS – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

February 10, 2021

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a health problem that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the condition in which the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens, also known as male sex hormones, that are usually present in women only in small amounts. The name polycystic ovary syndrome describes the numerous small cysts or fluid-filled sacs that form in the ovaries. There are, however, some women with this disorder that do not have cysts, while some women without the disorder have developed cysts.

In some of the cases with PCOS, a woman doesn’t make enough of the hormones that are needed to ovulate. The ovaries can develop many small cysts when ovulation doesn’t occur. These cysts make hormones that are called androgens and those with PCOS often have high levels of androgens. This also can cause more problems with a woman’s menstrual cycle along with many other symptoms of PCOS.

There is no cure for PCOS.  However, medication is often prescribed to reduce symptoms and prevent some health problems.

Let’s cover some common questions that relate to PCOS.

What causes PCOS?

The exact causes of PCOS are unknown.  The Mayo Clinic shares the below-mentioned factors that do play a significant role in PCOS.

  • Excess insulin. Insulin is the hormone produced in the pancreas that allows cells to use sugar, your body’s primary energy supply. If your cells become resistant to the action of insulin, then your blood sugar levels can rise and your body might produce more insulin. Excess insulin might increase androgen production, causing difficulty with ovulation.
  • Low-grade inflammation. This term is used to describe white blood cells’ production of substances to fight infection. Research has shown that women with PCOS have a type of low-grade inflammation that stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens, which can lead to heart and blood vessel problems.
  • Heredity. Research suggests that certain genes might be linked to PCOS.
  • Excess androgen. The ovaries produce abnormally high levels of androgen, resulting in hirsutism and acne.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms may include:

  • Irregular periods, missed periods, or very light periods
  • Large ovaries or ovaries with multiple cysts
  • Excess body hair on the chest, stomach, and back – also known as hirsutism
  • Weight gain, especially around the belly (abdomen)
  • Acne or oily skin
  • Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
  • Infertility 
  • Skin tag around the neck or armpits 
  • Dark or thick patches of skin on the back of the neck, in the armpits, and under the breasts

How is PCOS diagnosed? 

Oftentimes PCOS is diagnosed by a physical exam, pelvic exam, pelvic ultrasound (sonogram), blood tests, and reviewing your medical history.

How is PCOS treated?

Treatment depends on a number of factors like the intensity of the symptoms and your overall health.  It also depends on if pregnancy is in your plans.  

If you plan on getting pregnant in the future, your treatment plan could look like a change in diet, changes in your activity level, and medication to cause ovulation.

If you do not plan on getting pregnant your treatment plan may include birth control pills, diabetic medications, changes in diet, changes in your activity level, and medications to treat your symptoms.

What are the complications?

If you have PCOS you are more likely to develop certain serious health problems.  Including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, problems with the heart and blood vessels, and uterine cancer. Women with PCOS often have problems with infertility.

Living with PCOS

Some women struggle with the physical symptoms of PCOS.  There are cosmetic treatments that can help manage the symptoms such as electrolysis and laser hair removal.  Contact your doctor to discuss the best ways to manage your symptoms.