PCOS means Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or many ovarian cysts. PCOS can cause health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity and high cholesterol levels. The cause is unknown and the condition is thought to be genetic (runs in the family).
PCOS is diagnosed in women in their 20s and 30s. But it can also be diagnosed in teenaged girls as young as 11 and in women ages 40-55.
PCOS causes hormonal imbalance in women that can lead to irregular, prolonged or absent menstruation (Amenorrhea). The cysts in the ovaries are tiny sacs containing fluid and immature follicles that failed to rupture or release the mature egg for fertilization (ovulation).
The immature eggs stay inside the ovaries making it harder for women to become pregnant. Anovulation is when ovaries don’t release eggs at all. This is the main cause of infertility in women. PCOS has no cure, but the condition can be reversed with treatment, and lifestyle and diet changes.
PCOS triggers the ovaries and adrenal glands to release too much male androgen hormones (Testosterone which converts to DHT). DHT is the main cause of hair loss in women. Too much Testosterone and DHT in females can also cause severe acne, male pattern baldness, deep voice, increased sex drive, aggression, and unwanted facial and body hair (hirsutism).
PCOS also triggers the adrenal glands to release too much of a hormone called DHEA-sulfate, which can also cause excessive facial hair in women (see picture above) as well as other male characteristics. Women with PCOS are also at a greater risk for ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer (lining of the uterus) and breast cancers.
Some women with PCOS have too much circulating insulin in their blood because their cells have trouble utilizing insulin in the cells. Insulin Resistance means there is too much insulin circulating in the blood which causes blood sugar to be elevated. Insulin Resistance is mainly associated with obese women.
Signs and Symptoms of PCOS
Diagnosis & Treatment
Diagnosis is made after a review of the patient’s medical history, blood tests, and an ultrasound to confirm the presence of cysts inside the ovaries. Blood tests include thyroid function tests, a lipid profile to determine the amount of cholesterol in the blood, and fasting glucose (before you eat) to check your blood sugar.
PCOS is treated with lifestyle changes, diet changes and exercise. But when those methods fail, medications may be prescribed by your doctor.
Patients are encouraged to limit carbohydrates and sugars in their diets, and to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Exercise helps to lose weight and regulate hormones and blood sugar.
Your doctor may prescribe birth control pills to regulate your periods. Diabetes medication such as metformin (Glucophage) is prescribed to treat Insulin Resistance and to stabilize your blood sugar. Fertility medications help trigger ovulation.
Surgery is usually the last resort when women don’t respond to fertility medications.
Medications such as Spironolactone (Aldactone) and Progesterone are prescribed to block male androgens to treat acne and stop hair loss.
Other treatments include creams to get rid of unwanted facial and body hair, and laser hair removal to keep new facial and body hair from growing.
This has been your Medical Minute.
More Info On the Web
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – Womenshealth.gov
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – WebMD
PCOS – Hormone Health Network
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Photos are used for illustrative purposes only