Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
What Is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common women’s health condition that occurs when your reproductive hormones are out of balance.
Because it affects your hormones, PCOS may make your monthly menstrual cycle (including ovulation) change in different ways. Hormone imbalances from PCOS can also cause women to develop ovarian cysts (fluid-filled sacs), which may be painful. PCOS is one of the most common – and treatable – causes of infertility.
At Baptist Health, our women’s health experts understand the toll PCOS can take on a woman’s long-term health and self-image. We offer compassionate, comprehensive care that’s tailored to the needs of women like you.
Women may experience PCOS symptoms differently. If you have PCOS, you may have one or several symptoms, including:
- Weight gain, often to the point of obesity
- Irregular menstrual cycles, such as missed, heavy or unpredictable periods
- Problems getting pregnant, called infertility
- Acne or oily skin
- Ovarian cysts, or fluid-filled sacs that grow in one or both ovaries
- Excessive hair growth, which may show up on your face, abdomen or another place that’s less typical for women
- Fatigue or insomnia, or other problems that affect sleep
The exact cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is unknown, but there are several factors that may contribute to the development of PCOS. Those factors include, but are not limited to:
- Insulin resistance
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
PCOS is best addressed by making diet and lifestyle changes. Often, these changes come in the form of exercise and eating healthy. Most people who suffer with PCOS are overweight or obese. Studies have shown that losing 5-10% of your body weight can help to reduce symptoms of PCOS. Some of the diet and lifestyle changes include:
- Losing weight
- Exercising regularly, or consistent daily activity and movement
- Eating a low-calorie diet with sufficient amounts of fiber
- Try to limit starchy and sugary foods that can increase blood sugar
Treatment for PCOS is largely dependent on symptoms and desired outcomes. Medication can be an effective option for those with PCOS. There are several different medications used to treat symptoms of PCOS, and they can be organized into the following three categories:
Regulating the menstrual cycle
- Birth control
- Progestin therapy. Taking progestin every 10-14 days every 1-2 months can help regulate periods and lower the risk of endometrial cancer.
Helping with ovulation
- Clomiphene. This is an oral anti-estrogen medication.
- Letrozole (Femara). A breast cancer treatment that can stimulate the ovaries.
- Metformin. An oral medication that helps lower insulin levels and can improve insulin resistance.
- Gonadotropins. Hormone treatment given by injection.
Reducing hair growth
- Birth control
- Spironolactone (Aldactone). Blocks the affect of androgen on the skin, which can reduce hair growth. The medication can cause birth defects, so proper contraception is important. It is not recommended for anyone who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
- Eflornithine (Vaniga). A topical cream that helps to slow facial hair growth in women.
- Electrolysis. A small needle is injected into each of the hair follicles, proceeded by an electric current which eventually destroys the hair follicle, stopping hair growth. Multiple treatments may be necessary.
PCOS affects 1 in 10 women between the ages of 15 and 44. Doctors don’t know exactly what causes the condition, but it can affect any female who has gone through puberty.
You may be more likely to get PCOS if you are overweight or obese.
No single test can confirm a PCOS diagnosis. Your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination and discuss your medical history with you to determine whether your symptoms may suggest PCOS. If so, he or she may recommend additional testing to confirm polycystic ovary syndrome diagnosis, including:
- A pelvic exam, during which a doctor will examine your reproductive organs for possible cysts or other abnormalities
- Blood tests, which may check your body’s hormone or glucose (blood sugar) levels
- Imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, which can show your doctor a clearer picture of your reproductive organs and potential abnormalities that could explain your symptoms
While there is no cure for PCOS, there are many things you can do to keep the condition (and your symptoms) controlled. At Baptist, our team of women’s health providers includes many specialists highly skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of PCOS.
We’ll help you determine what’s causing your symptoms and develop a PCOS treatment plan that’s tailored to your needs and circumstances. If you’d like to get pregnant, you should know that there are many effective treatments for PCOS-related infertility.
Your doctor may want to watch you closely to ensure PCOS doesn’t affect your long-term health. Depending on your symptoms and health, your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes or medications such as hormonal birth control that may help you.
There are several complications of PCOS. Some complications can present serious health problems, while other complications are less serious, but may be unwanted or embarrassing. Complications include, but are not limited to:
- Infertility or difficulties with getting pregnant
- Gestational diabetes or pregnancy induced high blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Endometrial cancer
- Sleep apnea
- Sleep disorders
- Unwanted hair growth or hair thinning
- Weight gain, specifically around the abdomen
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