Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a syndrome suffered by 1 in 20 women of childbearing age. It is the leading cause of infertility in women. At Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists, our highly qualified staff of OB-GYNs and fully accredited Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgeons (FPMRS) is qualified to recognize, diagnose and treat this problem. We offer our patients decades of combined expertise and, in collaboration with Northside Hospital Cherokee, have access to the most recent cutting edge technology known to modern medicine.
What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
PCOS, simply put, is a condition that wreaks havoc on a woman’s hormonal system, causing an imbalance of progesterone and estrogen, the sex hormones. This imbalance can cause the body to produce ovarian cysts, which are benign masses frequently found on the ovaries. PCOS can disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle which may adversely affect her ability to conceive. It can also pose serious health risks, and may have an effect on physical appearance and cardiac function. Currently, over 5 million women in the United States alone are affected by this condition.
What Causes Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
While no one knows for certain what causes it, following may be some reasons:
Genetics – It’s speculated that genetics play a role. If a family member has PCOS, there is a likelihood that you may develop it as well.
Androgen – Another factor that may cause PCOS is overproduction of the male hormone, androgen. The female body produces this hormone naturally but women with PCOS have higher than normal levels. Excess androgen can have an undesirable impact on the development of the egg and its release during ovulation.
Insulin resistance – Insulin resistance is a condition where the body’s cells do not respond to the effects of insulin and may also contribute to high androgen levels.
What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?
Symptoms usually begin with the onset of menstruation and are characterized by:
- Irregular, absent (amenorrhea), sparse, unpredictable, frequent, infrequent or heavy periods
- A change or deepening in voice
- Thinner hair
- Decreased breast size
- Pelvic pain
- Weight gain or obesity
- Anxiety and depression
- Darkened, thick downy skin patches (acanthosis nigricans)
- Oily skin
- Excess hair on toes, thumbs, stomach, upper thighs, chest and face (hirsutism)
- Small multiple ovarian cysts.
Though not PCOS symptoms, many women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome are also prone to suffer from hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol conditions that may be attributable to excessive weight gain often occurring with PCOS.
Is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Dangerous?
If not treated or controlled, PCOS may lead to serious complications such as:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Periodic cessation of breathing while sleeping (sleep apnea)
- Anxiety and depression
- High cholesterol
- Heart attack
- Endometrial cancer
- Breast cancer.
Furthermore, should you become pregnant, PCOS can place you in a high risk category, as women with this syndrome have a greater chance of developing gestational diabetes. There is also a much higher possibility of miscarriage and premature delivery. More vigilant monitoring may be necessary to help insure a safe pregnancy, labor and delivery.
How Do I know if I Have PCOS?
There are currently no definitive tests for this syndrome. In order to diagnose PCOS, we begin by taking a complete medical and family history, along with various tests to rule out any other conditions. Physical and pelvic examinations must be performed to look for such indications, such as a swollen clitoris or enlarged ovaries. To conclusively determine if you have PCOS, any or all of the following tests may be performed:
- Fasting glucose tests to measure blood sugar levels
- Thyroid function tests
- Lipid tests to check cholesterol levels
- A vaginal ultrasound to study your reproductive organs
- A pelvic laparoscopy to detect any possible ovarian growths
- A tissue biopsy if these growths are found.
What is the Treatment?
If, in fact, we diagnose you as suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome, treatment consists of controlling and managing the symptoms to insure no complications develop. There is no actual cure, and since symptoms vary from woman to woman, any of the following may help to alleviate your condition, providing you with a better quality of life:
- Birth control pills to adjust menstrual cycles, acne, and to reduce male hormone levels
- Regular exercise and dietary changes to control or lose weight
- Fertility drugs to aid with ovulation
- Anti-androgen drugs to reduce acne and male hormone characteristics, such as excessive body hair and other masculine traits
- Diabetes medication to lower male testosterone levels and blood glucose
- Surgery, such as ovarian drilling, which uses electrical current to reduce male hormone levels and destroy a small section of ovary to promote ovulation.
Is There Anything I Can Do?
Yes. The following lifestyle changes can greatly diminish many of the negative symptoms of PCOS and any future impact they may have on your health:
- Lose weight if you are obese or overweight
- Exercise regularly
- Don’t smoke
- Eat a healthy balanced diet low in sugar and fat.
The earlier polycystic ovarian syndrome is diagnosed and treated, the sooner we can help prevent the serious complications that can occur as a result of this disorder. To schedule an appointment with one of our providers, please call 770.720.7733.