Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
PCOS is a common condition that results in irregular periods, along with excess body hair, acne, and obesity. It is associated with an imbalance in the hormone levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Some, but not all, people 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 can produce insulin, but cells are unable to use it normally. Women with PCOS have an increased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
What are symptoms of PCOS?
- Irregular or absent periods (maybe 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 people with PCOS have all these symptoms. 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?
People 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. People 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 anti-inflammatory diet
- Hormonal contraception, such as birth control pills, patch, or ring, suppress testosterone production and keep the uterine lining from thickening to decrease risk of endometrial cancer from irregular periods. For irregular periods, a medicine taken a few days to stimulate periods when you miss more than a couple months is an alternative to a daily birth control pill.
- Metformin, a medication that reduces insulin resistance, may help.
- Acne treatments: creams or topicals or an anti-androgen (Spironolactone) can help alter the excess androgen that contributes to severe acne in PCOS.
- If you are seeking pregnancy and having difficulty, see your OB/GYN. Fertility medications are very successful.
- Excess body hair (hirsutism) can be treated by hair removal (depilatory or epilitory) or by a dermatologist with electrolysis & laser hair removal. Antiandrogen medications can also help (Spironolactone).
How Can We Help?
- Make an appointment with a Student Health Center medical provider for a personal health assessment.
- Meet with a Student Health Center registered dietitian to help you eat healthier.
- If you smoke or vape, call 812-855-8230 to schedule a free appointment with one of our tobacco and vaping cessation specialists. Quitting helps cut the risk of heart disease.
- Make an appointment with a personal trainer at the SRSC.