If you’ve been attempting for some time to get pregnant, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of female infertility.
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that can cause a wide variety of problems, including menstrual cycle abnormalities, acne, hirsutism (abnormal hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen, back, and pubic region), obesity, diabetes (insulin resistance), heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, psychological issues (i.e. depression), and stroke.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PCOS affects 6 to 12 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 (bleeding can be light or heavy when it occurs)
- Elevated levels of androgens (commonly called male hormones)
- Excess hair growth on the face and other areas
- Acne and oily skin
- Pelvic pain (due to ovarian cysts)
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,” said Jason Patzwald, D.O., FACOG, Obstetrics and Gynecology physician at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “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.”
Additionally, women with PCOS can develop uterine cancer, although it’s relatively rare.
To diagnose PCOS, your women’s health provider will take a detailed history, perform an appropriate physical exam, order specific blood tests (i.e. to test a variety of hormone levels), and order a pelvic ultrasound to further evaluate the uterus and ovaries.
Treatment for the disorder
“If a woman with PCOS does not want to become pregnant, we typically prescribe birth control pills, which can help regulate a patient’s menstrual cycle, and help to protect the inner lining of the uterus,” Dr. Patzwald said. “If a woman with PCOS wants to become pregnant, we can prescribe medication to stimulate ovulation.”
Obesity and clinical manifestations of insulin resistance are strongly associated with PCOS, which can lead to chronic medical conditions, such as metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Therefore, Dr. Patzwald said it is imperative that patients with PCOS try and maintain a healthy lifestyle (i.e. proper diet, nutrition and exercise) to decrease the risks of developing these chronic medical conditions. Furthermore, if indicated, medication can be prescribed to help reduce the risks of developing these chronic medical conditions associated with insulin resistance.
“You may feel frustrated and concerned, wondering why this has happened to you. You can find some relief knowing that the condition is hormonal and can be treated with medication. Especially when trying for a baby, it can be positive to know you don’t necessarily have to resort to in vitro fertilization, which can be expensive,” Dr. Patzwald said.
Dr. Patzwald added that PCOS doesn’t have to ruin plans for a family.
“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,” he said.
Talk to your provider if you have symptoms of PCOS or concerns about your reproductive health.
I love that you are addressing PCOS and bringing it to the forefront. I would be interested in more information about PCOS and how it affects women, pre and post-menopause. How it affects us as we age. So happy that more research is being done. There are so many answers yet to be found concerning PCOS. Everyone experiences it differently, making it difficult to treat.
I commend you for your article in your newsletter. Thank you.