Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal condition that affects people with female reproductive organs. Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, can cause enlarged ovaries, abnormally long menstrual cycles, intense pelvic pain, excess hair growth, and loss of fertility. This syndrome affects about 10 million people worldwide, but the exact cause is unknown.
What is PCOS?
People are usually diagnosed with PCOS after puberty or when they are young adults—once their reproductive organs are up and running. PCOS is caused by an imbalance in androgens, insulin, and progesterone, but the exact cause of this imbalance is unknown. Doctors believe PCOS can be hereditary, can be caused by excess insulin in the body, low-grade inflammation, and excess androgens. This hormonal imbalance affects the ovaries and menstrual cycle, among other things.
All people have a certain level of androgens (known as “male hormones”), but people with PCOS can have higher levels of androgens than the average person, which causes some of the symptoms of PCOS like acne, unwanted hair, and irregular menstrual cycles. Insulin also affects this syndome. If someone produces too much insulin, this causes an excess of androgens, which causes problems in the ovaries. And finally, if someone isn’t producing enough progesterone, this can also lead to problems with your menstrual cycle because progesterone is a hormone essential for your period. Even though this condition affects your ovaries, many people with PCOS don’t actually have cysts on their ovaries but do indeed have complications with this part of their body. Cysts on the ovaries are possible, however, and are caused by follicles or fluids on the ovaries that enlarge them and restrict their function.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
Unfortunately, PCOS has a lot of symptoms, but fortunately, they can be managed in a number of ways. Many people with the syndrome experience long last periods with pelvic pain that is present even when they’re not menstruating. Excess hair growth known as hirsutism is another symptom due to the increased androgen levels. This excess hair can be on the face, back, chest, and other parts of the body. Infertility is also a big symptom of PCOS, although people can undergo hormone therapy if they have trouble conceiving, and many women with the syndrome can still conceive naturally. Other symptoms include weight gain, fatigue, thinning hair, acne, mood changes, headaches caused by hormonal changes, and sleep problems.
How can I treat my PCOS?
Because of the varying insulin levels and weight gain that can accompany PCOS, doctors recommend weight loss and a healthy diet to help treat it and avoid diabetes and high blood pressure. The varying hormone levels do make it hard to lose weight and keep it off with PCOS, but doctors say even a five percent weight loss will help treat the syndrome and manage insulin levels. Additionally, doctors may treat PCOS with hormonal birth control to help regulate your period and lower your androgen levels which will help with the excess hair growth.
A drug called metformin can also be used to treat polycystic ovary syndrome. Metformin isn’t approved by the FDA for treating this syndrome, but it is often prescribed to help lower insulin and androgen levels. This drug can also improve menstrual cycles and help with weight management. It won’t treat the excess hair growth though. Because this drug isn’t approved by the FDA, it’s important to have an in-depth discussion with your doctor about taking metformin. Another drug called clomiphene is also used to treat PCOS because it helps induce ovulation, which can help with fertility issues. There are also many products specifically made to treat excess hair growth.
Getting support for your diagnosis
Although PCOS is a serious syndrome with many symptoms, there are many options for treating it and managing it. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, see your doctor and they can help diagnose you with a blood test to check your hormones, as well as a pelvic exam and ultrasound.
Polycystic ovary syndrome affects a lot of women and can cause serious problems such as infertility and diabetes if untreated. The PCOS Awareness Association has a bunch of wonderful resources on their website such as in-depth information on each PCOS symptom, as well as specialists who treat PCOS. Although there is no cure for this syndrome, there are many ways to treat it and manage the symptoms. If you have PCOS, talk to your doctor about ways to manage it and know that you are not alone.