If you’ve been attempting for some time to get pregnant, chances are you know all about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), one of the leading causes of infertility.
But if you’re not trying to have a child, you may not have a clue about it. Such is the nature of PCOS, a hormonal disorder that can cause a wide variety of problems.
Dr. Joseph Welter, a Marshfield Clinic obstetrician and gynecologist, said PCOS affects 6 to 8 percent of all women in the United States. Its cause is unknown, but most experts think several factors, including genetics, could play a role.
PCOS symptoms include:
- Rare or no menstrual periods over the course of a year
- Elevated levels of androgens, commonly called male hormones, produced by the ovaries
- Excess hair growth on the face and other areas
- Acne and oily skin
Major health concerns
“Hair growth can be alarming for many women, especially if other people in the family don’t have the same degree of hair growth,” Welter said. “But the more serious hormonal abnormalities associated with PCOS put people at risk for other disorders, particularly heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol counts and obesity.”
Women with PCOS can also develop uterine cancer, although it’s relatively rare.
To diagnose PCOS, doctors perform a number of tests of hormone levels to determine where the imbalances are occurring.
A frustrating disorder
“If a woman with PCOS does not want to become pregnant, we typically prescribe birth control pills, which also help to protect the inner lining of the uterus,” Welter said. “If a woman with PCOS wants to become pregnant, we can prescribe medication to stimulate ovulation.”
People come to the doctor frustrated and concerned, wondering why this has happened to them, Welter said. Sometimes they’re relieved to know that what they have is hormonal and can be treated with medication. They’re glad they don’t have to resort to in vitro fertilization, which is really expensive.
“I tell my patients that PCOS doesn’t have to ruin their plans for a family,” he said. “It’s fairly common and wide ranging in terms of their health, but it’s certainly not something that most people can’t overcome when it comes to a successful pregnancy.”
Looking for more information on obstetrics and gynecology at Marshfield Clinic? Visit us here.