September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) awareness month, and this widespread disease affects roughly 10 million women across the globe. It’s associated with irregular periods, infertility, and ovarian cysts that can be troublesome and painful. Scientists do not know exactly what causes PCOS, and there is no direct cure, but symptoms and infertility can be successfully treated for many.
Causes and Symptoms of PCOS
There is no clear cause as to why PCOS affects some women and not others. While the disease is thought to be chiefly genetic in nature, environmental factors play a part as well. High levels of insulin and high levels of androgens (“male hormones”) are associated with the disorder, in addition to strikingly low levels of progesterone hormones. Those who have the syndrome may notice excessive acne on their face and body, hirsutism (which is an overgrowth of hair throughout the body), weight gain, and a very irregular menstrual cycle. Some women do not know they suffer from PCOS until they try to become pregnant with multiple failed attempts. Polycystic ovary syndrome is highly correlated with infertility. This is in part why awareness is so crucial, because for many women of childbearing age, this is a heartbreaking side effect of the disease.
PCOS is often comorbid with other issues, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, other common health problems associated with the presence of polycystic ovary syndrome include high levels of cholesterol, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, and endometrial cancer. Hormonal birth control is often used to arrest PCOS symptoms, and many types also provide some protection from endometrial cancer.
Just as there is no one clear cause, there is no clear test for PCOS either. However, doctors use blood tests to check for androgen and progesterone levels, as well as a physical and pelvic exam to check for other signs. Many women who have PCOS suffer from excessive hair growth and weight gain, as well as skin discolorations. Doctors may also perform an ultrasound to look for ovarian cysts.
Treatment for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
As PCOS has many symptoms, each one is treated with a different method. For example, excessive hair growth can be successfully treated with creams and topical medications, and birth control pills can help adjust hormone levels, reduce instances of acne, and prevent certain types of cancer. Doctors may also prescribe anti-androgen medication to help block the effects of too many “male hormones.” These medications help arrest symptoms that relate to hair loss, excessive hair growth, or acne. These medications are not safe for pregnant women, however, and should be taken with caution.
When it comes to infertility, your doctor will work closely with you to regulate ovulation and to move toward a successful pregnancy. It is highly recommended that those with PCOS reach a healthy weight and BMI prior to pregnancy, as excess weight and PCOS carry risks. There are other options, such as in vitro fertilization, for those who still struggle to become pregnant. To learn more about polycystic ovary syndrome or be tested for the disorder, make an appointment today at The Woman’s Clinic. With two convenient locations in Jackson and Madison, we can address any type of gynecological or obstetrical need, including a treatment plan for those suffering from infertility as it relates to PCOS.