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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

If you deal with unstable menstrual periods, facial hair and acne, you may be one of the 5% to 26% of women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).  

PCOS is common among women between the ages of 15 and 44, or during their childbearing years. Most patients are diagnosed when they struggle to get pregnant in their 20s and 30s. In fact, PCOS is the most common reason for infertility. The disorder is caused by an imbalance in reproductive hormones, which hinders a woman's egg release and ovulation cycle. 

Since PCOS is a health problem that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, it's important for you to know the facts. 

Overview of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance that affects women during their reproductive years. The exact cause remains unclear, but a combination of genetic and environmental factors is believed to play a role. Insulin resistance, a condition where the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, is frequently associated with PCOS and can lead to increased insulin levels. This, in turn, stimulates the ovaries to produce more androgens than usual, contributing to the symptoms of PCOS. 

PCOS is one of the leading causes of female infertility due to hormonal imbalances that interfere with ovulation. Symptoms of PCOS extend beyond fertility issues and may include irregular or absent periods, excessive hair growth, acne, multiple small ovarian cysts, and weight gain.  

Signs and symptoms 

PCOS can trigger a variety of signs and symptoms in women, such as: 

  • Irregular periods. Some women have no periods, and some have more than one period per month. 
  • Cysts on the ovaries. 
  • Weight gain or trouble losing weight. 
  • Hair growth on the face, chest and back. 
  • Loss of hair on the scalp. 
  • Bad acne. 
  • Oily skin. 
  • Acanthosis nigricans (thick, patchy skin). 

Many Complications

Although infertility is one of the biggest complications of PCOS, the condition also can cause problems once a woman does get pregnant. A pregnant woman with PCOS has an increased chance for miscarriages, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia—dangerously high blood pressure. 

The complications go beyond the reproductive system alone. Women with PCOS are at risk of developing anxiety, depression, sleep problems, obesity, uterine cancer, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, diabetes and insulin resistance. 

Diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome 

Diagnosing PCOS can be complex and requires a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional. There is no single test for a definitive diagnosis; instead, doctors rely on a combination of diagnostic criteria, medical tests, and examinations.  

Blood tests are conducted to measure hormone levels, including testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and insulin. An ultrasound may be performed to check for multiple small cysts on the ovaries. It's essential to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as thyroid disorders, adrenal gland disorders, and specific types of tumors, to confirm a PCOS diagnosis. 

If you suspect you have PCOS, consulting with a healthcare professional is vital for a comprehensive evaluation and accurate diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of long-term complications. 

Treatment can help 

If you think you have PCOS, the first step is to talk to your primary care provider. Your treatment plan will be based on your symptoms and needs. 

For instance, medicines can be used to treat insulin resistance, to lower the level of androgens (male reproductive hormones) that cause skin and hair problems, or to regulate menstrual cycles and reduce acne. 

If you want to get pregnant, your provider may prescribe medications to help with ovulation. Losing even a small amount of weight (if you are overweight) may help regulate your periods and improve fertility. In vitro fertilization may be an option if medicine does not work. 

Lifestyle Recommendations for Managing PCOS 

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is vital for managing PCOS and improving overall well-being. Here are some essential lifestyle recommendations: 

  1. Healthy lifestyle changes: Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial, as excess weight can exacerbate PCOS symptoms. Focus on a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. 

  1. Dietary considerations: A healthy diet significantly impacts PCOS management. Include fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit processed foods, sugary snacks, and drinks. Incorporate lean proteins, healthy fats, and low-glycemic index foods into your meals. 

  1. Exercise, stress management, and sleep hygiene: Regular physical activity helps regulate hormone levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Engage in enjoyable activities such as walking, swimming, or cycling. Practice stress management techniques like meditation or deep breathing exercises and prioritize adequate sleep each night. 

Implementing these lifestyle changes can help manage PCOS symptoms effectively. For personalized recommendations and guidance, consult with your healthcare provider. 

Although PCOS has no cure, treatment can help manage the condition and its complications. Work with your provider to figure out the best treatments for you. 

If you need an OB/GYN, our compassionate providers are here to help. Click here to see the list of Memorial OB/GYNs. >>> 

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Sources: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; National Institutes of Health; Office on Women's Health