September marks the start of PCOS Awareness Month, so we wanted to take some time to discuss the symptoms and treatments of this common syndrome. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a hormone disorder that is common among women who are at reproductive age. The disorder can be difficult to diagnose, but there are PCOS symptoms that may help your doctor come up with a treatment plan.
While the exact causes for PCOS are unknown, there is a correlation between women with PCOS also having resistance to insulin. This resistance means that the body is unable to effectively use insulin. If the insulin levels start to build up, this may lead to higher levels of the male hormone androgen. Obesity can also contribute to increased insulin levels, ultimately worsening PCOS symptoms.
The Top 4 PCOS Symptoms
PCOS usually develops during puberty, but can also develop in response to substantial weight gain.
Women with PCOS most commonly experience:
- Prolonged or infrequent periods
- Excess levels of the male hormone androgen
- Ovaries that develop small collections of fluid, and fail to regularly release eggs
While it can be difficult to diagnose, common PCOS symptoms include:
- Polycystic ovaries: Women with PCOS commonly experience enlarged ovaries that contain follicles that surround the eggs. Because of this, the ovaries might fail to function properly.
- Irregular periods: When the ovaries are not able to regularly release an egg, this can lead to prolonged or irregular periods. Some menstrual cycles may be longer, shorter, or lighter than others, and some cycles may be missed altogether.
- Infertility: The combination of malfunctioning ovaries and irregular periods make it difficult to ovulate, leading to infertility.
- Excess body hair, acne, and/or weight gain: Elevated levels of androgen may result in a variety of physical factors, such as excess facial and body hair, weight gain (specifically in the abdomen), and occasionally severe acne and male-pattern baldness.
If you have two or more of these symptoms, your doctor may administer certain tests to form a diagnosis. Ultrasounds can produce images of the ovaries to see if they are enlarged, or if there are any visible cysts. Blood tests check for hormone levels and can determine if there are high levels of androgen.
Treatment Options for PCOS
PCOS symptoms can be more extreme if the woman is obese, so diet and exercise are two of the best steps to reducing PCOS symptoms. Making healthy changes can also help your body use insulin more efficiently, lower blood glucose levels, and may also aid in ovulation.
Additional treatments may include certain medications to help aid in ovulation. While these medications can help the ovaries to release eggs regularly, it’s important to note that there are certain risks, like ovarian hyperstimulation, where the ovaries release too many hormones.
If you don’t plan to become pregnant, birth control may also serve as a treatment to PCOS by helping to control periods, lowering levels of androgen, and clearing up acne.
In some cases, medications used primarily for helping with diabetes can also help with PCOS symptoms. For example, if a woman with PCOS also has a resistance to insulin, these medications can help lower this resistance. In turn, this may lead to more regular ovulation and lower levels of androgen.
If you have any concerns with irregular periods or any other potential PCOS symptoms, give Raleigh OB/GYN a call at 919-876-8225 or request an appointment.