Do you think you may have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)? If you suspect this common reproductive issue is the culprit behind your seemingly strange symptoms, take a look at what you need to know about PCOS.

The Cause

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder that includes irregular (longer or shorter) menstrual cycles and, in some cases, excess androgen. While androgen is known as a male hormone, women also make small amounts of it. The high androgen levels in women with PCOS can stop ovulation and lead to other unwelcome symptoms.

Along with excess androgen, women with PCOS may also have high insulin levels and insulin resistance. This can eventually lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Even though hormonal imbalances are common with PCOS, they aren’t necessarily the cause. Genetic factors may play a role in the development of this reproductive syndrome, but there’s no specific known cause.

The Numbers

How many women have PCOS? According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, polycystic ovarian syndrome impacts one in ten women. While the medical community considers PCOS a condition that affects women in their childbearing years, it can still cause symptoms well into menopause.

The Symptoms

How do you know if you have PCOS? You’ll need a medical provider’s diagnosis to determine whether you have PCOS. Irregular periods are a common symptom doctors look for. Women with PCOS often miss periods or stop having a menstrual cycle completely.

Other PCOS symptoms include excessive hair growth on the face or chin, acne, thinning hair/male-pattern baldness, unexplained weight gain, darkening of the skin (specifically on the neck creases, under the breasts, or in the groin area), and skin tags. You may have some or all of the symptoms.

The Diagnosis

Beyond your health history and symptom list, you will need a physical/gynecological exam before the medical provider can diagnose PCOS. The provider will look for symptoms of the syndrome as well as check for swollen/enlarged ovaries.

While there isn’t a general PCOS test, the medical provider may order bloodwork to check your hormone levels. They may also recommend a pelvic ultrasound to look for ovarian cysts.

The Results

How does PCOS impact your body? Along with the often-uncomfortable symptoms, this syndrome can result in the development of fluid-filled sacs called cysts and possible infertility.

Women with PCOS may have improperly developed eggs or may not release eggs (ovulate) monthly. Not only will this create an irregular menstrual cycle, but it can also make pregnancy difficult. Along with infertility, this syndrome can also cause problems for pregnant women. PCOS can lead to an increased risk for gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, miscarriage, or premature birth.

The Treatment

What PCOS treatments can your doctor or other medical provider offer? This reproductive syndrome has no known cure. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about PCOS.

There are a few different options to reduce the severity of PCOS symptoms. The route you choose depends on your medical provider’s recommendations, your individual needs, your current health status (including lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise), and whether you want to get pregnant or not.

Prescription medications such as clomiphene, metformin, letrozole, and gonadotropins may also decrease PCOS symptoms and increase the chances of pregnancy.

If you’re overweight or obese, a diet change and additional physical activity may increase the regularity of your menstrual cycle. This can both reduce PCOS symptoms and increase your chances of pregnancy. Women who want to treat this syndrome, but don’t want to get pregnant immediately, may benefit from hormonal birth control such as the pill, shot, ring, patch, or some types of IUDs.

Is PCOS a problem for you? Contact the Rappahannok Women’s Health Center for more information.