PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a hormonal disorder that affects one in 10 women of childbearing age, where their ovaries or adrenal glands produce more male hormones than normal. Women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance and metabolism problems that may affect their overall health and appearance. PCOS is also a common and treatable cause of infertility.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Some of the symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Infrequent and irregular periods
  • Infertility
  • Pelvic Pain
  • Excess hair growth on the face, chest, stomach or thighs
  • Acne on the face, chest, and upper back
  • Thinning hair or hair loss on the scalp
  • Weight gain or having trouble losing weight
  • Darkening of skin along neck creases, in the groin, and underneath breasts
  • Patches or thickened skin

What health risks are associated with PCOS?

Women with PCOS are at higher risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, sleep apnea, mood disorders, and high blood pressure, and therefore, will need to see their doctors regularly for checkups.

What causes PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, however, there are several factors that may play a role:

Genetics. PCOS tends to run in families, especially if you have a mother or sister with PCOS or with symptoms like yours.

High levels of androgens. Having high levels of androgens can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation) during each menstrual cycle and can cause extra hair growth and acne.

Insulin resistance. The body’s cells do not respond normally to insulin. Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, especially those who are overweight or obese, do not get enough physical activity, and have a family history of diabetes, usually Type 2 diabetes.

How is PCOS diagnosed?

In diagnosing PCOS, your doctor is looking for three characteristic features including the absence of ovulation, high levels of androgens, and cysts on the ovaries. Having one or more of these features could lead to a diagnosis of PCOS.

During your consultation, your doctor will:

  • Take a full family history and ask your questions about your menstrual cycle.
  • Conduct a physical exam and look for extra hair growth, acne, and other signs of high levels of the hormone androgen.
  • Take blood samples to test your levels of androgens, cholesterol, and sugar in your blood.
  • Conduct a pelvic exam to check your ovaries.
  • Recommend an ultrasound to take a picture of your pelvic area.

How is PCOS treated?

Even though there is no cure for PCOS, the symptoms can be managed. Your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan that may include:

Weight loss. Losing weight will help you to lower your blood glucose levels, improve the way your body uses insulin, and help your hormones reach normal levels. This last part is especially important to improve your chances of getting pregnant.

Hair removal or slowing hair growth. You can try laser hair removal or electrolysis to remove excess hair. There are even prescription skin creams that can slow down the growth rate of new hair in unwanted places.

Prescription medicines. Hormonal birth control, such as the pill, patch, shot, vaginal ring, or hormonal IUD may be prescribed to improve acne and reduce unwanted hair. Other medicines can block the effect of androgens or lower insulin and androgen levels. If you are trying to get pregnant, your doctor may prescribe Clomid to help you ovulate.

In vitro fertilization (IVF). This is another option to help you get pregnant. Your egg is fertilized with your partner’s sperm in a laboratory and then placed in your uterus to implant and develop. IVF results in higher pregnancy rates and lowers your risk for multiple births.

Surgery. Ovarian drilling is a surgery in which your doctor makes a few holes in the surface of your ovary using lasers or a fine needle heated with electricity. Surgery usually restores ovulation, although the effects are only temporary, lasting for 6 to 8 months.

This information is provided for informational educational purposes only, and should not be considered as individual medical advice. Please discuss your specific situation with your medical provider.

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