Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Many women suffer from the horrors of irregular periods. In fact, intermittent bleeding, short cycles, and skipped periods affect almost every woman at least once during her reproductive years. However, if you are continually struggling with irregular periods, and are also experiencing a number of other symptoms, you may actually be suffering from a menstrual disorder known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS can result in anovulation and infertility, so it is important to seek treatment if you think that you might be suffering from the disorder.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a reproductive disorder that affects your ovaries. It causes fluid-filled cysts to form all over the ovaries, preventing them from functioning appropriately. Your ovaries are responsible for releasing eggs into your fallopian tubes for fertilization. Every month, one egg is released from your ovary during ovulation. However, in women with PCOS, ovulation fails to occur.
The large number of cysts on the ovary interferes with the production of hormones. As a result, ovulation is hindered. These cysts can also cause the ovaries to enlarge to up to three times their normal size.
What Causes PCOS?
Unfortunately, the cause of PCOS remains a mystery to health care professionals. There are a number of theories as to what may cause the disorder, but no one theory has been sufficiently proven:
- Genetics: PCOS may be the result of faulty genetics. The disorder tends to run in families suggesting a genetic component to PCOS.
- Insulin Resistance: Recent research points to insulin resistance as a factor in the disorder. Up to 30% of women suffering from PCOS appear to have trouble using insulin properly.
- Hormonal Deficiency: PCOS is also linked with hormonal deficiencies. In order to ovulate, women need to have enough luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone in their body. Women with PCOS don't have enough of these hormones, which may trigger the disorder.
Who Gets PCOS?
PCOS can affect any woman of childbearing age, however, certain women seem to be at increased risk for developing the disorder. Risk factors include:
- having a family history of PCOS
- having diabetes
- suffering from insulin resistance
What are the Symptoms of PCOS?
PCOS is characterized by a number of different symptoms, some of which are very unpleasant and uncomfortable. If you recognize any of these symptoms, it is a good idea to visit with your health care provider. PCOS symptoms include:
- irregular menstruation
- infrequent ovulation
- weight gain
- excess hair growth (hirsutism)
- oily skin and acne
- male-pattern baldness
- dark patches on the skin
Complications of PCOS
If left untreated, PCOS can cause a number of complications. It is associated with:
- heart disease
Diagnosing PCOS can be difficult. This is because of the wide variety of symptoms caused by the disorder which, on the surface, do not appear to be related at all. If you are experiencing any PCOS symptoms, ask your doctor about the possibility of PCOS.
In order to detect the presence of any cysts, your health c
are provider will first give you a pelvic exam. During this exam, your health care provider will palpate your ovaries, feeling for any cysts. If your cysts can be felt, than you will be given a vaginal ultrasound. This is a simple procedure that allows your health care provider to get a closer look at any ovarian cysts. Ovarian cysts typically look like a string of pearls surrounding the ovaries. Blood tests may also be ordered to check the levels of certain hormones in your blood.
Treatment of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
PCOS treatment is necessary in order to reduce the side effects of the disorder and to maintain fertility. However, since the cause of the disorder is still debated, treatment focuses mainly on symptom reduction and not treatment of the disorder itself. Typical PCOS treatments include:
- Oral Contraceptives: Oral contraceptives, like the birth control pill, are used to help restore hormonal balance and to reduce symptoms like hair growth and irregular periods.
- Insulin Treatment: Because so many women with PCOS appear to suffer from insulin resistance, insulin medications are often given to help treat the symptoms of PCOS. Insulin helps to regulate ovulation and menstruation.
- Surgery: Surgery can be performed for women with severe PCOS symptoms. Ovarian drilling uses a small needle to break cysts that have formed on the ovaries. However, this surgery can cause scar damage, which may compromise fertility.