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The name seems to be self-explanatory, but it isn’t. Yes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) does involve the ovaries, but it is in fact a complicated disorder involving many systems of the body. Let’s take a closer look.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. The name of the condition comes from the appearance of the ovaries in most, but not all, women with the disorder — enlarged and containing numerous small cysts located along the outer edge of each ovary (polycystic appearance).

A change occurs in the estrogen and progesterone levels of a female. The cause of PCOS and this shift in hormones is basically unknown. The change in hormone causes symptoms of PCOS which make it harder for a woman’s ovaries to release fully grown (mature) eggs. Normally, one or more eggs are released during a woman’s period. This is called ovulation. In PCOS, mature eggs are not released from the ovaries. Instead, they can form very small cysts in the ovary. Because of this ovulation may not occur, leading to issues of infertility.

Most of the time, PCOS is diagnosed in women in their 20s or 30s. However, it may also affect teenage girls. The symptoms often begin when a girl’s periods start. Women with this disorder often have a mother or sister who has symptoms similar to those of polycystic ovary syndrome.

What Are The Symptoms of PCOS?

Infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excess hair growth on face or chest, acne and obesity can all occur in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. In adolescents, infrequent or absent menstruation may signal the condition. In women past adolescence, difficulty becoming pregnant or unexplained weight gain may be the first sign.

The following health conditions are common in women with PCOS:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Weight gain and obesity

How Is PCOS Diagnosed?

It is important if you think you are exhibiting signs of PCOS to see your Health Care Provider. They will want to perform a pelvis exam, and:

Blood tests can be done to check hormone levels. These tests may include:

  • Estrogen level
  • FSH level (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) – this may be normal or low in PCOS
  • LH level (Luteinizing Hormone) – this may be normal or elevated
  • Male hormone (testosterone) level – this may be elevated

Other blood tests that may be done include:

  • Fasting glucose (blood sugar) and other tests for glucose intolerance and insulin resistance
  • Lipid level
  • Pregnancy test (serum HCG)
  • Thyroid function tests

Your provider may also order the following imaging test to look at your ovaries:

  • Vaginal ultrasound

What Is The Treatment of PCOS?

Weight gain and obesity is common in women with PCOS. Losing weight can help treat the hormone changes and health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

Losing just 5% of your body weight can help your hormone imbalance and may make it easier to get pregnant. For a 160 pound woman, that’s just 8 pounds!

Your health care provider may recommend birth control pills to make your periods more regular. Such medicines may also help reduce abnormal hair growth after you take them for a few months. This is a great option if pregnancy is not planned for a period of time.

A diabetes medicine called glucophage (metformin) may also be recommended to:

  • Make your periods regular
  • Prevent type 2 diabetes
  • Help you lose weight when you follow a healthy diet

Other medicines that may be prescribed to help make your periods regular and help you get pregnant are:

  • LH-releasing hormone (LHRH) analogs
  • Clomiphene citrate, which helps your ovaries grow and release eggs

Your doctor or nurse may also suggest other treatments for abnormal hair growth. Some are:

  • Spironolactone or flutamide pills
  • Eflornithine cream

Permanent hair removal options include:

  • Electrolysis
  • Laser hair removal – works best on very dark hair that covers large areas

Treatments can expensive and multiple treatments may be needed.

A pelvic laparoscopy may be done to remove to remove or alter an ovary to treat infertility. The effects are temporary.

The good news is that pregnancy is possible even if you have been diagnosed with PCOS. It is important that you set up an appointment with your provider if you think you are exhibiting signs of PCOS or you are having difficulties becoming pregnant.