Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, often called PCOS, is a condition that affects women of childbearing age with a disorder of the endocrine system. It’s fairly common, affecting as many as one in 10 women. The syndrome can be detected in girls as young as 11 and is estimated to affect nearly five million women in the United States. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS or have concerning symptoms, you should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Very often, if you have PCOS, you also may have enlarged ovaries that contain pockets of fluid. Called follicles or cysts, these small fluid sacs can be seen through an ultrasound.
It’s a serious condition that, for many women, is accompanied by other health complications. PCOS can affect your:
- Menstrual cycles
- Blood vessels
In addition to the ovarian cysts, most women with polycystic ovarian syndrome also have:
- Irregular periods
- High levels of the male hormone androgens
- Excessive hair growth
As with so many reproductive disorders, the causes are relatively unknown. Many researchers suspect that genetics play a major role in the development of PCOS because many women with the condition also have a mother or sister with the same issues.
While all women produce androgens, women with PCOS make more than normal. This hormonal imbalance is another trait shared by most women with PCOS. The condition also affects the fertilization and release of eggs for reproduction.
Additionally, insulin production is out of sorts in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. The pancreas produces too much insulin. That in turn increases male hormone production and interferes with the proper functions of the ovaries.
Finally, low-grade inflammation is another common trait held by PCOS sufferers. The body’s white blood cells cannot produce sufficient antibodies to fight infections, resulting in inflammation. It’s this constant low-grade inflammation that causes the affected ovaries to keep producing the male hormones that inhibit pregnancy.
Symptoms Begin Early
Different women may exhibit slightly different symptoms of PCOS. Most of the symptoms, however, first appear soon after they begin menstruating. At the same time, many women don’t begin to show signs of the disorder until much later in life, particularly following a substantial weight gain.
Your doctor may not even begin looking for signs of polycystic ovarian syndrome until you present various symptoms. The degree and dimension of the symptoms vary greatly between women. The most common signs include:
- Infertility — in fact, PCOS is one of the most common reasons for the inability to have children
- Irregular menstrual cycles, seen early in young women, which is the most common trait of the syndrome — for example, when the time between periods is typically longer than 35 days, when you have fewer than seven or eight periods in a year or when you fail to have a period for four months or longer
- Hirsutism, which is the production of excessive hair on the chest, face, back, toes and thumbs
- Ovarian cysts
- Significant dandruff
- Oily skin and acne
- Sleep apnea
- The appearance of many loose flaps of skin, called skin tags
- Hair thinning or male pattern baldness
- Pelvic pain
- Dark patches of skin appearing randomly all over your body
- Weight gain
While some women with polycystic ovarian syndrome ovulate and produce eggs, others cannot get pregnant with PCOS. PCOS and pregnancy limitations don’t have to be accepted, however, since many women have had successful pregnancies with the right treatment.
In addition to the risks noted above, women with PCOS face other consequences that could lead to life-threatening conditions, such as:
- Higher risk of heart attack
- Increased blood pressure
- Higher LDL levels
- Sleep apnea
- Depression and anxiety
Tests and Diagnoses
There’s no definitive test to determine for sure whether you have polycystic ovarian disorder. Your doctor relies on the obvious symptoms you present as well as your testimony about your feelings and menstrual cycles. Doctors then rely on:
- A physical examination that includes a pelvic exam
- Blood tests to measure your hormone levels, with particular attention on the amount of androgens you produce
- Insulin levels tests
- Fasting and blood glucose tests
- A vaginal ultrasound to get a clearer picture of your reproductive organs
Treatment Begins at Home
There is no cure yet for polycystic ovarian syndrome. Treatment mainly consists of controlling the effects of the symptoms and side effects of the condition. Symptoms should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Women who want to get pregnant with PCOS, for example, often have great success with infertility treatments. Several different kinds of medications are available for women with PCOS to get pregnant by increasing or kick-starting ovulation. Beware, however, that most of these treatments increase your chances of having multiple births.
The most important treatment begins at home with lifestyle modifications that also improve your heart. The majority of women who are overweight with PCOS and diabetes can benefit from a change in diet. A polycystic ovarian syndrome diet consists of:
- Drastically reducing your consumption of processed foods and food that’s made with added
- Filling your daily diet with more whole-grains, lean meat and fish, vegetables and fruit.
In addition to dramatic PCOS weight loss, your improved diet helps your menstrual cycles get back on track and normalizes your dysfunctional hormones. Even if you lose as little as 10 percent of your current weight, you can begin to stabilize your insulin levels as well.
Birth control pills or a vaginal ring are often prescribed to help regulate your menstrual cycles and reverse PCOS hair loss. Other medications are available to block the effects of the excessive male hormones you may have. Pills or creams can slow hair growth. It’s advised, however, that you make sure you’re not pregnant before taking any hair-controlling substances that could cause birth defects.
It’s important to eat right, quit smoking and exercise regularly while being treated for PCOS. Especially when changes to your appearance become drastic, you are at a greater risk of developing emotional issues on top of your physical problems. Fear and embarrassment may develop. But you can overcome those emotions with help of your OBGYN NYC and perhaps even a mental health professional. Support groups that include women with similar issues also can provide an excellent source of comfort while you recover.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide gynecology guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult ob/gyn doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified gynecologist or certified gynecology specialist can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
Do you have questions about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome? Would like to schedule an appointment with one of the best OB GYN NYC, Dr. Anat Zelmanovich, please contact our office.
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