Are you one of the five million U.S. women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
About 1 in 10 women of childbearing age have this condition, which creates a hormonal imbalance and other metabolic problems.
PCOS can affect many aspects of a woman’s health and life, including weight, hair, skin, energy, sleep, mood, reproductive health, and fertility. Although the “cystic” part of the condition’s name implies that all women with PCOS have ovarian cysts, some women have cysts and some don’t.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a metabolic disorder that has a strong effect on the endocrine and reproductive systems and contributes to cardiac disease and obesity. It is most commonly diagnosed in women age 15 to 44, including women in their 20s and 30s who are struggling to become pregnant.
Although the exact cause of PCOS is not yet known, research indicates that it may be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. High levels of androgens and insulin in women with PCOS suggest that the cause is hormonal, but it is unclear how and why certain women develop this imbalance.
Women with PCOS may need the help of an array of clinicians to manage their condition and cope with their symptoms. These include a fertility specialist and an obstetrician/gynecologist.
What are the Symptoms of PCOS?
The earliest symptoms of PCOS are typically experienced during puberty when young women notice irregular periods, weight gain, headaches, and pelvic pain with or without their period.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome symptoms for women of all ages typically include:
- Sleeplessness. Women with PCOS are more likely to have night sweats, insomnia, and sleep apnea, which is a condition where the person stops breathing for short periods of time while sleeping.
- Fatigue. Low energy is a common symptom and is often related to poor sleep quality from PCOS.
- Hirsutism. This is the medical term for excess hair growth. Women with PCOS often develop hairy areas on the abdomen, feet, chest, back, arms, upper lip, chin, and cheeks.
- Thinning hair. While excess hair growth is the problem on other parts of the body, on the top of the head the hair tends to thin in women with PCOS. They may develop something similar to male pattern baldness, or baldness on the top-front of the head.
- Acne. Skin problems are common in women with PCOS. This includes acne, darkened skin, and skin tags.
- Weight gain. About 50-percent of women with PCOS have weight gain that is difficult to combat, even with a traditional exercise and diet regimen.
- Fertility issues. PCOS is one of the top causes of female infertility but not all women with PCOS are infertile and some conceive naturally with no assistance.
- Mood instability. When you have PCOS, you are more likely to experience fluctuation in moods, depression, and anxiety. For some women, this worsens around the time of their period.
- Pain. Women with this condition often report persistent PCOS pain in various parts of their bodies, including headaches, pelvic pain, and abdominal pain.
- Period irregularity. Periods may arrive irregularly or alternate between a very heavy flow and a lighter flow, or spotting. Bleeding could also be heavy month after month.
- Cysts. Some women, but not all, develop cysts on their ovaries with PCOS. These cysts are an accumulation of immature follicles; and the number of cysts tends to decrease with age.
PCOS and Infertility
Women who experience fertility problems due to PCOS shouldn’t give up hope. By managing PCOS symptoms, women can often improve their fertility. This may involve a health plan that includes weight loss, medication, and/or medical procedures.
Your gynecologist or obstetrician can also support you with additional information about natural fertility options that can help you boost your fertility and increase the odds of becoming pregnant.
PCOS Risk Factors
It is difficult to pin down precisely what puts someone at a higher risk of PCOS, but research indicates that there are two primary risk factors: having a mother or sister with PCOS and being obese.
Two additional characteristics are common in women with PCOS: insulin resistance and higher-than-normal androgens. However, there is not a clear cause-and-effect relationship between these conditions and PCOS.
Women with PCOS are also more likely to develop other health conditions, including clinical obesity, fatty liver disease, cardiac disease, and diabetes. According to the National Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association, women with PCOS constitute the largest group of women at risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
PCOS Testing and Treatment Options
It is important to understand that there is no single PCOS test. To diagnose it, your doctor will likely perform a variety of tests that indicate PCOS may be present, which could include testing your:
- Blood pressure
- Glucose tolerance
- Triglyceride levels
In terms of PCOS treatment, you may receive a recommendation for a Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome diet that could involve calorie reduction, limiting carbohydrates and sugar, and/or increasing your intake of protein and green leafy vegetables. Many women find, and some studies show, that a PCOS diet relieves symptoms and prevents the condition from worsening.
In addition, your provider may recommend screening you for depression, anxiety, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders. This will help you understand how the condition is affecting your mental and physical well-being.
There are certain medications your provider might prescribe for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome treatment, including hormonal birth control, anti-androgens, and Metformin. However, some of these are not recommended for women intending to become pregnant, so always discuss your plans with your doctor.
When to See Your Doctor About PCOS
Talk to your provider to discuss PCOS if:
- You have never been diagnosed, but you are concerned with your current symptoms
- You have irregular periods or do not get periods on your own
- You are obese and/or have weight gain that is difficult to manage
- You have a PCOS diagnosis and are having trouble managing your condition
Be sure to talk to your OB-GYN provider about any PCOS symptoms that have arisen or have begun to worsen: headaches, cramps, fatigue, thinning hair, excess hair, acne, weight gain, moodiness, heavy or irregular periods, or trouble conceiving.
Early detection is vital with PCOS because intervention can help prevent damage to your heart, liver, pancreas, reproductive system, mental wellness, and more. With the help of your Moreland OB-GYN provider, you can manage PCOS symptoms with a personalized plan that’s tailored specifically to your needs.
Moreland OB-GYN Associates, S.C. is dedicated to the needs of their patients. At Moreland OB-GYN, we promote overall excellence in women’s health care. Our compassionate providers understand the difficulties that women face in their daily health, whether it is unexplainable pain or unusual symptoms, we are here to listen and provide our expert care.
For more information about PCOS, request an appointment with Moreland OB-GYN.