Approximately 1 in 10 women of childbearing age suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). And in my practice, I work with many women who are navigating the side effects, causes and complications of PCOS. I thought I’d take a minute to discuss what exactly PCOS is, what complications it can create and who may be at risk for it.
A NY Times blog recently pointed out that PCOS is a very misleading name. PCOS is a hormonal imbalance of female sex hormones that can cause irregular periods, elevated male hormones (androgens) or multiple cysts in the ovaries. It is important to note that not all women with PCOS have the characteristic cysts. Doctors diagnose PCOS if two symptoms are present and hormonal blood tests are confirmatory. Relying solely on the presence of ovarian cysts can lead to a missed diagnosis.
PCOS can lead to a variety of complications, from type 2 diabetes and infertility to sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease. Women with PCOS may experience one or more of the following:
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Depression and anxiety
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Endometrial cancer
- Balding or extra body hair
The cause of PCOS is unknown. Some experts believe insulin resistance causes it; others believe it’s caused by hormone dysregulation. This uncertainty, however, is not cause for alarm or to abandon hope of managing and preventing possible complications. One thing that is certain is it tends to be hereditary.
Treating and managing PCOS is very much an individualized plan. Early diagnosis, weight loss, diet changes, hormone treatments – such as oral contraceptives – may reduce the long-term complications. And while PCOS may pose challenges with becoming pregnant, there are many effective fertility treatment options to help women achieve their family goals.
If you have any questions about PCOS, or would like to speak to someone in our office, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will work together to understand your medical history and goals to create a customized, effective plan just for you.
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