Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
PCOS is a common condition that results in irregular periods, often in combination with excess body hair, acne, and obesity. It is associated with an imbalance in the levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Some, but not all, women with PCOS have ovarian cysts. PCOS cannot be “cured” but the symptoms can be managed.
The cause of PCOS is unclear, but it may be in part due to insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, the pancreas is able to produce insulin, but cells are unable to utilize it normally. Women with PCOS have an increased risk of developing diabetes.
What are symptoms of PCOS?
- Irregular or absent periods (less than 8 per year)
- Obesity or overweight (especially at the waist)
- Excess dark hair on face or body
- Thinning hair on scalp
- Infertility (due to infrequent ovulation)
- Dark-colored skin at neck and armpits
Not all women with PCOS have all these problems. Each may have a different mix of these symptoms. Other conditions may cause some of these symptoms so it is important to discuss your concerns with your health care provider.
What are the long-term health risks of PCOS?
Women with PCOS have an increased risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and sleep apnea. Irregular menstrual cycles increase the risk of cancer of the uterus (endometrial cancer) since the lining of the uterus doesn’t shed as often as it should. Women who have PCOS may also have difficulty with infertility, but usually are able to conceive with the help of medication.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
PCOS is diagnosed if at least 2 of the following conditions are present:
- Irregular periods
- Signs of too much testosterone, such as excess body hair (also called hirsutism), acne, thinning hair
- Elevated blood levels of testosterone
- Ovarian cysts
Sometimes the diagnosis can be established based on your symptoms and findings on physical exam. Sometimes measurement of testosterone and/or an ultrasound of the ovaries is needed.
How is PCOS treated?
- Exercise and healthy diet
- Hormonal contraception, such as birth control pills, patch, or ring, suppress testosterone production and keep the uterine lining from thickening.
- Metformin, a medication that reduces insulin resistance, is sometimes suggested
- If you are seeking pregnancy and having difficulty, see your OB/GYN. Fertility medications are very successful.
How Can We Help?
- Call 812-855-7688 to make an appointment with a Women’s Clinic provider for a personal health assessment.
- Call 812-855-7688 to meet with a Health & Wellness Education registered dietitian to help you eat healthier.
- If you smoke, visit Health & Wellness Education for free help to quit. This will help cut risks of heart disease.
- Schedule an appointment with a personal trainer at the SRSC
For more information:
Up to Date: http://www.uptodate.com – information also in Spanish
The Endocrine Society: http://www.hormone.org/ - information in Spanish
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association: http://www.pcosupport.org/
PCOS fact sheet: http://www.womenshealth.gov