Disclosure :: this post is sponsored by Crescent City Physicians, Inc.
One in every 10 women has polycystic ovary syndrome, a disorder that is the leading cause of female infertility and also a risk factor for diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses. Yet half of all women with PCOS go undiagnosed.
What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS):
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in which a woman’s sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) are out of balance. Due to this, women with PCOS may not ovulate and this in turn leads to cyst (small fluid filled sacs) formation in the ovaries. While ovarian cysts are benign, they tend to produce an excess of androgens, a type of male hormone which women normally have in smaller amounts. These high levels of androgens cause menstrual irregularities and infertility as well as unwanted changes in appearance like excessive hair growth and weight gain.
PCOS is a very common condition in women of childbearing age. It can lead to serious health issues if left untreated.
Causes of PCOS:
The exact cause of PCOS is not clear. PCOS may also run in families. It is not uncommon for sisters or a mother and daughter to have PCOS.
Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance. This means the body cannot use insulin well. Insulin levels build up in the body and may cause higher androgen levels. Obesity can also increase insulin levels and thus make PCOS symptoms worse.
Symptoms of PCOS:
- Missed periods, irregular periods, or very light periods
- Ovaries that are large or have many cysts
- Excess body hair, including the chest, stomach, and back
- Weight gain, especially around the belly (abdomen)
- Acne or oily skin
- Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
- Small pieces of excess skin on the neck or armpits (skin tags)
- Dark or thick skin patches on the back of the neck, in the armpits, and under the breasts
How is PCOS Diagnosed?
Your health care provider will ask about your medical history and your symptoms. You will also have a physical exam which will likely include a pelvic exam. This exam checks the health of your reproductive organs, both inside and outside your body.
You will also be asked to undergo further testing such as:
Blood tests – These look for levels of androgens and other hormones. Your health care provider may also check your blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Ultrasound – This test is used to look at the size of the ovaries and see if they have cysts. The test can also look at the thickness of the lining of the uterus.
How is PCOS Treated?
Treatment for PCOS depends on a number of factors. These may include your age, how severe your symptoms are, and your overall health. Treatment for PCOS is often done with medication. This cannot completely cure PCOS but it helps reduce symptoms and thus prevent some health problems. The type of treatment may also depend on whether you want to become pregnant in the future.
If you do plan to become pregnant, your treatment may include:
- Medications to cause ovulation – Medications can help the ovaries to release eggs normally. However, these medications also have certain risks which include an increased chance for a multiple birth (twins or more) as well as ovarian hyperstimulation that can cause abdominal bloating and pelvic pain.
If you do not plan to become pregnant, your treatment may include:
- A change in diet and activity – A healthy diet and more physical activity can help you lose weight and reduce your symptoms. This will also help your body use insulin more efficiently, lower blood glucose levels, and may help you ovulate.
- Diabetes medication – This is often used to lower insulin resistance in PCOS. It may also help reduce androgen levels, slow hair growth, and help you ovulate more regularly.
- Birth control pills – These help to control menstrual cycles, lower androgen levels, and reduce acne.
- Medications to treat other symptoms – Some medications can help reduce hair growth or acne.
Complications of PCOS:
Women with PCOS are more likely to develop certain serious health problems. These include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, problems with the heart and blood vessels, and uterine cancer. Women with PCOS often have problems with infertility.
About Dr. Aarti Pais
Aarti Pais, M.D has practiced Family Medicine with Crescent City Physicians since 2015. Dr. Pais earned her medical degree from India in 2010. She served her Family Medicine internship at Tulane University – East Jefferson General Hospital from 2012-2013 and her residency from 2013-2015. Dr. Pais is Board Certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. Her office is located at 3434 Prytania Street, Suite 110, NOLA 70115 and she can be reached at (504) 897-7007.