Polycystic ovary syndrome, commonly referred to as PCOS, is a health issue that affects approximately one out of every ten women who are of childbearing age. The disorder is caused by an imbalance of a woman's reproductive hormones, which can create problems in the ovaries. As a result, cysts can develop within ovaries, sometimes preventing eggs from being released.
Common Signs of PCOS
Typically, symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome develop around the time of the first menstrual period, but it is possible that the issue develops later in life. Women who develop PCOS may experience:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Extra facial or body hair
- Thinning hair on the scalp
Potential Risk Factors
The exact cause of PCOS remains unknown, but a few factors can play a role in its development:
- Weight gain - Obesity has been linked to increased rates of PCOS.
- High insulin levels - Women with polycystic ovary syndrome tend to have a resistance to insulin. This can cause insulin blood levels to be higher than normal.
- Increased androgen (male hormone) - All women's bodies make small amounts of androgen, but when too much is produced, these hormones can cause women to develop male characteristics.
- Heredity - Studies suggest that women with a family history of PCOS or diabetes are more likely to develop the issue.
Testing for PCOS
Doctors have a variety of tests at their disposal to diagnose polycystic ovary syndrome. They will most likely use a combination of the following:
- Physical exam - During the exam, they will measure your blood pressure, body mass index, and waist size. They will also look for skin abnormalities and excess hair growth on the face, chest, and back.
- Pelvic exam - The doctor will perform a visual and manual inspection to check for masses or growths.
- Pelvic ultrasound - An imaging device will use sound waves to provide the doctor with a visual of the ovaries to identify any cysts not found during a pelvic exam.
- Blood tests - This test will help to check hormone levels to determine if the amount of androgen being produced is higher than normal.
Treatment for PCOS
There are several behavioral modifications and medical treatments that can help relieve symptoms of PCOS.
For women who are suffering from the effects of polycystic ovary syndrome, lifestyle changes can help control symptoms.
- Lose weight - Weight loss can help lower blood glucose levels and make the body more efficient in the way it uses insulin. Even a small amount of weight loss can help make menstrual periods more regular.
- Limit carbohydrate intake - Since carbohydrates increase insulin levels, it's best to lessen carbohydrates from the diet.
- Stop smoking - Cigarette smoke can raise androgen levels in women, contributing to PCOS symptoms and making them worse.
To regulate the menstrual cycle and improve menstrual regularity, the doctor may use birth control pills to increase estrogen and progestin and decrease androgen. Progestin therapy may be used for those who want to try to conceive a child.
To reduce excessive hair growth, birth controls are an option, but there are other choices. Certain medications block the effects of androgen on the skin, while certain types of creams can slow facial hair growth. To get rid of existing hair, laser hair removal is sometimes suggested.
Speak With Your OB-GYN
If you are suffering from the symptoms of PCOS, and you would like to see what your options are, we're here to help! Please give us a call at (601) 939-1600 to make an appointment.