Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is often a mystery; we hear about it sometimes in the news, or perhaps we have a friend that has mentioned it, but unless it is directly affecting you, there seems to be some confusion. Maybe because of all the letters in its acronym, or only learning of it when we are trying to conceive, PCOS can be difficult to understand.
PCOS is a common health problem, affecting up to 15% of women. It is caused by insulin resistance – this leads to relatively high levels of insulin, interfering with the normal pituitary and ovarian interactions. Typically, the hormonal imbalance creates problems in the ovaries. Ovaries make the follicles that release the egg each month as part of a healthy menstrual cycle. With PCOS, the follicles may not develop as they should, or the egg may not be released during ovulation as it should.
Because PCOS can cause missed or irregular menstrual periods, this can lead to infertility and the development of cysts.
Symptoms of PCOS:
Irregular menstrual cycle. By far, this is the most common symptom. Women with PCOS may miss periods or have fewer than eight cycles in a year. It’s possible to seethe other end of the spectrum- simply bleeding off and on irregularly.
Hirsutism, commonly known as abnormal hair growth. This involves the face, chin, or parts of the body where men usually have hair. This affects up to 70% of women with PCOS.
Weight gain or difficulty with weight loss
Darkening of skin
Skin tags (small excess flaps of skin in armpits or neck area).
What causes it? The exact cause is yet to be determined. It may be genetic, and/or related to weight gain. If you are insulin resistant, your body’s cells do not respond normally to insulin. This causes the ovarian problems, and the weight problems from abnormal carbohydrate metabolism. Over time, insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes.
What we can do? While there is no cure for PCOS, you can manage the symptoms of PCOS. Metformin, and weight loss, are the stalwarts of treatment. The good news is that you and your doctor will work on a treatment plan based on your symptoms, your plans for children, and your risk of any long-term health issues like diabetes and heart disease.
Can I still get pregnant with PCOS? Yes. It is important to know that having PCOS does not mean you can’t get pregnant. PCOS is one of the most common, but treatable, causes of infertility in women. In women with PCOS, the hormonal imbalance interferes with the development and release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation). If you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant. You and your doctor can discuss ways to help you ovulate, raising your chances of getting pregnant.
Dr. Richmond is an expert at treating PCOS. Special Care for Women provides women’s services that include treating pediatric and adolescent issues, normal and high risk obstetric care, and performing the latest and most successful gynecologic surgeries, as well as office laser therapies. Call us at (256)435-2229.