The month of September is dedicated to raising worldwide awareness of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Also known as the “perfect hormonal storm,” PCOS is one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders in women and involves irregular function of the ovaries. Roughly 5 million women in the U.S. (between 5-10% of women of childbearing age) suffer from PCOS, which includes many of our patients.
One of the most devastating effects of PCOS is its impact on fertility. Usually women with PCOS have low levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and high levels of androgens (male hormones), which can impact ovulation and make it difficult to conceive. Women with PCOS also have higher rates of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and premature delivery.
Causes of PCOS
The exact cause of PCOS unknown, although there are several factors that are associated with the condition. It is closely linked to high levels of hormones such as insulin and testosterone, but it is not clear if this is a cause or an effect of the condition. Additionally, it appears to run in some families, which suggests that there may be a genetic link in the pathogenesis of the condition.
Symptoms of PCOS
Women with PCOS have three characteristic symptoms. Women are diagnosed with PCOS when they have at least two of these three symptoms:
1. Irregular periods
2. Excess androgens – either measured in the blood or seen through symptoms such as acne or excess hair growth
3. Polycystic ovaries – seen on ultrasound
The symptoms of PCOS can vary from woman to woman in their display and severity. Additional symptoms of PCOS can include, but are not limited to: irregular menstrual cycles and periods, weight fluctuations, acne, hirsutism (excess body hair), skin tags, absent or infrequent menstrual periods, hair loss at the scalp (Androgenic alopecia), dark skin patches, pelvic pain, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high triglycerides, hight blood pressure, depression and/or anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, ovarian cysts, and infertility.
Early diagnosis of PCOS is important since it has been linked to an increased risk for developing several medical risks, including insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. PCOS cannot be diagnosed with one test alone and symptoms vary from woman to woman.
Is PCOS Treatable?
While there is cure for PCOS, early diagnosis and proper education can help women lower the risk factors and manage the symptoms associated with PCOS. Diet and exercise play a crucial role in the management of PCOS, not only for weight loss and maintenance, but also to regulate insulin levels.
Many of our patients struggle with PCOS and fertility treatments are very successful at helping women with PCOS get pregnant.
CCRM patient Elizabeth:
“After struggling with PCOS and multiple miscarriages, we were lucky enough to had been introduced to Dr Schoolcraft and staff. With a fresh transfer we had twins and a frozen transfer we had a singleton.”
Looking for support from other “cysters?” MyPCOSteam is a social network and online support group for women diagnosed with PCOS.