What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Understanding PCOS
What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
PCOS is a condition in which the levels of sex hormones of a woman namely estrogens and progesterone go out of balance. This imbalance can cause growth of cysts on the ovaries. However, not all women with PCOS have cysts. PCOS has adverse effects on the menstrual cycle, fertility, cardiac function, insulin levels and appearance of the woman.
PCOS is one of the most common conditions found in women all around the world. According to a study done by United States Department of Health and Human Services, PCOS affects up to 10% women of childbearing age in the US.
What can cause PCOS?
Unfortunately, the exact cause of PCOS is still unknown. The doctors believe that hormonal imbalance due to different factors and genetics play an important role. If one woman in the family has PCOS then there is a chance that her female offspring will have the condition at some point in their life.
Overproduction of male sex hormone androgen is also one of the reasons of PCOS. The women who are suffering from PCOS have a higher level of androgen in most of the cases. The higher level of androgen affects the release of eggs during ovulation thus causes problems related to fertility. A Higher level of insulin is one of the causes of increase in androgen levels.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
The symptoms of PCOS are as follows:
- Decrease in breast size
- Deeper voice
- Excessive hair loss
- Excessive hair on unwanted parts of the body like face, thumbs, chest or toes
- Weight gain
- Pelvic pain
In some cases, women have other concurrent symptoms like diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension which are generally connected to weight gain. The symptoms of PCOS generally start to show up after the woman starts to menstruate for the first time. The severity of the condition varies from person to person.
What are the complications related to PCOS?
Some of the complications that are associated with PCOS are as follows:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High cholesterol
- Anxiety and depression
- Sleep apnea
- Endometrial cancer
- Heart attack
- Breast cancer
PCOS causes a lot of complications in pregnancy. In case you get pregnant, your doctor may refer you to someone who specializes in high-risk deliveries. The women with PCOS have higher rates of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, still births and premature delivery. Thus, extra care during pregnancy is required.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
There is no definite test for PCOS. The doctor checks for the physical and hormonal abnormalities. During the physical and pelvic examination the doctor checks for signs of PCOS such as swollen ovaries and swollen clitoris. Different blood tests to check the level of hormones are also performed including thyroid, fasting glucose and lipid tests.
The doctor can also prescribe some scans like vaginal ultrasound and surgical procedures like pelvic laparoscopy for a better understanding of the stage of the condition. The vaginal ultrasound creates real-time images of the reproductive organs. The pelvic laparoscopy includes a minor incision in your abdomen to insert a camera and check the health of the ovaries. In case the doctor finds any growth, he will take a small tissue sample for further testing.
What are the treatments for PCOS? Is it curable?
PCOS is treatable but not curable. The main aim of the treatment is to control the symptoms associated with the condition so that further complications can be prevented. The treatment varies from woman to woman depending on the stage of the condition.
- The doctor will prescribe a controlled diet so that you can get proper nutrition important for controlling blood sugar levels.
- The doctor may prescribe birth control pills in case you are not trying. The birth control pills can help in treating acne, menstrual cycle, and blood sugar levels.
- The doctor may also prescribe anti-androgens to control higher levels of male sex hormones.
- In some cases, the doctor may prescribe surgery. The procedure is called ovarian drilling in which the doctor punctures your ovary with a small needle that carries an electric current. This is done in order to destroy part of the ovary. It’s a short-term solution that can promote ovulation and reduce male hormone levels.