What Is It, Who Does It Affect, How Is It Diagnosed, How Is It Treated
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome – What Is It?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder among teen girls and young women. As the term “polycystic” meaning “many cysts” suggests, it is a complex condition in which the ovaries become enlarged and contain multiple small-sized, fluid-filled cysts. It affects approximately 5-10% of women between the ages of 18-44 and is one of the leading causes of fertility problems with a potential to be a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, endometrial cancer, and heart diseases.
Signs and Symptoms of PCOS
Although PCOS is relatively common among infertile women, almost 70% of the women remain undiagnosed. Diagnosis of PCOS means the presence of polycystic ovaries and any one of the following three major symptoms:
- Irregular Menstrual Periods – irregular, infrequent, prolonged, or abnormally heavy periods are the most common symptoms of PCOS.
- Excess Androgen – elevated levels of “androgen” the “male hormones” which may result in excessive growth of hair in unwanted areas of the body such as the face, breasts, chin, or stomach.
- Polycystic Ovaries – the presence of enlarged ovaries containing many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) which surround the eggs. This may result in infertility problems, as the ovaries fail to function regularly.
If you experience any two of the above signs and symptoms, it is worth getting tested for this hormonal abnormality.
Causes of PCOS
The exact cause of PCOS is still not clear; experts, however, believe that PCOS results from a combination of health, genetics, environment and lifestyle factors, some of which are very complex in nature. Some of the factors that might play a part include:
- high levels of insulin
- high levels of androgens
- low-grade inflammation
Who Does It Affect?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can happen at any stage after puberty and can affect women of all races, ethnicity, and color. Between 12%-18% of women of reproductive age (15-44 years) have polycystic ovarian syndrome. You are at a higher risk of PCOS, if you are overweight, or have PCOS in your family, such as your mother, sister, or aunt.
How Is It Diagnosed?
There is no single test that can be used to diagnose PCOS definitively, healthcare professionals often rely on a number of tests/exams to come to a solid conclusion. Your doctor will start by assessing your symptoms first, followed by asking your medical history and checking you physically. After ruling out other possible medical conditions, he/she will then recommend following exams/tests to come to a conclusion:
- Pelvic Exam – body parts such as vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and rectum are checked for anything unusual. Your doctor may conduct a pelvic ultrasound to get a clear picture of these parts.
- Physical Exam – your doctor will also conduct a complete physical examination of your body including checking your weight, BMI, body fat, extra hair growth, acne, and discolored skin.
- Blood Tests – your doctor will finally conduct some blood tests to check for levels of male hormones, glucose, cholesterol, insulin, and other hormones.
For better results and prevention of other potential health problems, early diagnosis is important.
How Is It Treated
To date, there is no cure for PCOS and it does not go away on its own. Various treatment options are available though, but they are only aimed at managing the symptoms associated with this hormonal disorder and can help to reduce the risk of developing other serious long-term health problems such as heart diseases and diabetes.
Based on your symptoms, other health issues, medical history, your plans for having children and your potential risks of developing other long-term health problems, your doctor may recommend a treatment plan. For women who want to get pregnant, but are facing complications, the treatment plan will focus on helping them conceive.
Different medications may be prescribed by your doctor depending on the symptoms associated with PCOS. Some commonly prescribed medications include:
- Oral Contraceptive Medications – oral contraceptive pills are often prescribed for regulating the menstrual cycle, contraception, preventing the womb from thickening, and reducing excess hair growth and acne.
- Infertility Medications – are prescribed to help you get pregnant.
- Other Medications – your doctor may even advise you some medications to block the testosterone hormone.
Southbank Medical Centre