September is PCOS Awareness Month! Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a very common condition impacting 8 to 13% of women worldwide and 6 to 12% (which is as many as 5 million!) in the United States. In reality, the condition affects many more people, as up to 70% of affected women remain undiagnosed worldwide. Because so many go undiagnosed, it is important to discuss PCOS openly to help raise awareness and create a more widely educated population when it comes to women’s health.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS, is a hormonal disorder causing enlarged ovaries and small cysts on the outer edges of the ovaries. It occurs during the reproductive years.
In many cases, a person with PCOS does not make enough of the hormone needed for ovulation, causing the ovaries to develop these small cysts. The cysts are filled with fluid and contain immature eggs called follicles, which fail to release eggs regularly. Additionally, the small cysts produce hormones called androgens, a male sex hormone that is usually only present in small amounts in a person with a uterus. These excess hormones can cause problems with the menstrual cycle and can cause many common symptoms of PCOS.
What causes PCOS?
The exact causes of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome are unclear, but there are multiple factors that may play a role including:
- Insulin resistance
- Low-grade inflammation
- Excess androgen
Additionally, genetics may play a role in whether or not a person has PCOS. It is common for women in the same family to have PCOS. If your mother or sister has PCOS, you may be more likely to have it as well.
Common Symptoms of PCOS
Common symptoms of PCOS may include but are not limited to:
- Missed, irregular, rare, or light periods
- Excess hair growth on the face, chest, and/or abdomen
- Hair loss, like male pattern baldness
- Severe acne
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Multiple small fluid sacs in ovaries, called cysts
If you are experiencing symptoms of PCOS, reach out to your healthcare provider. We can help diagnose your PCOS and help you find the best way to manage it.
Those with PCOS are subject to possible complications including:
- Increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, due to insulin resistance
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Increased risk of endometrial hyperplasia, which means the lining of the uterus becomes too thick. This can increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
- Increased risk of sleep apnea
- Increased incidence of depression and anxiety
Early diagnosis and weight loss may lower the risk of these long-term complications.
How to Treat and Manage PCOS
A variety of treatments are available to address the problems experienced with PCOS. Treatment is tailored to each patient according to symptoms, other health problems, and whether she wants to get pregnant.
If a woman is looking to get pregnant, possible treatments include a change in diet and activity or medication to cause ovulation. If a woman is not planning to become pregnant, treatment options also include birth control pills, diabetes medication, or medications to treat other symptoms, like hair growth or acne.
When to Call Your Provider
If you have symptoms of PCOS, we can help diagnose and manage your PCOS.
During an evaluation for PCOS, we will ask about your medical history and symptoms along with conducting a physical exam. We may also schedule you for an ultrasound or blood tests.
At Essex County OB/GYN, we believe caring for you means caring about you. We are here to support you through your journey with PCOS by providing the most comprehensive reproductive health care available. Contact us today to book your appointment!