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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome - What Is It And How Will It Affect My Body?

Posted September 16, 2019 by Diana C Mong, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common health problem that affects women of childbearing age and is caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels. Because of this imbalance, the ovaries sometimes develop numerous small collections of fluid and can fail to regularly release eggs.

Who is at Risk for PCOS?

It is estimated that between 5% and 10% of women between 15 and 44 have PCOS and most women find out about it in their 20s or 30s due to symptoms. Women of all races and ethnicities are at risk, but the risk for PCOS may be higher if a woman is obese or has a mother, sister or aunt with PCOS.

What Causes PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS isn’t known, but it is believed that genetics plays a role. Other factors include excess insulin which may increase androgen production causing difficulty with ovulation. Low-grade inflammation, when white blood cells produce substances to fight infection, may also stimulate polycystic ovaries to produce androgens. This can also lead to heart and blood vessel problems.

What Are the Signs of PCOS?

The symptoms of PCOS can start as early as a first menstrual period, though often times PCOS develops later, sometimes in response to substantial weight gain. A diagnosis of PCOS can be made when you experience symptoms such as:

  • Irregular Periods – If you commonly skip periods throughout the year, have long gaps between periods or have abnormally heavy flows.
  • Too Much Hair – If you have excess facial hair or hair on parts of the body where men usually have hair, this may be a sign of high androgen, a sign of PCOS.
  • Excessive Acne – If you have bad acne on the face, chest or upper back.
  • Thinning Hair – If you have hair loss that resembles male-pattern baldness.
  • Darkening of the Skin – If you have darker skin along your neck creases, in your groin area or under your breasts.
  • Weight Gain – If you quickly gain excess weight or have difficulty losing weight.
  • Skin Tags – If you have small excess flaps of skin in your armpit or neck area.

What Are the Complications of PCOS?

  • The immediate complications of PCOS are irregular periods and the visual irregularities that come from an excess of androgen. Down the line and left untreated, PCOS can cause:

  • Infertility
  • Development of cysts on the ovaries
  • Gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
  • Miscarriage or premature birth
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis – a liver inflammation caused by fat on the liver
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Depression
  • Cancer of the uterine lining

How is PCOS Diagnosed and Treated?

To treat PCOS, a doctor may recommend a pelvic exam, blood tests, an ultrasound and regular screenings for the various symptoms of the condition.

While PCOS can’t be directly treated, the treatment of the condition focuses on managing the individual’s concerns, including infertility, acne or obesity. Some other things your doctor may recommend:

  • Lifestyle changes – weight loss through a low-calorie diet and exercise can improve symptoms of the condition
  • Medication – Birth control, progestin therapy and/or ovary stimulating medication can help stimulate your cycle and help you ovulate.
While PCOS can’t be cured, it can be treated and managed. At Summa Health, we understand the complex needs of women and the importance of staying healthy. Visit our Women’s Health Services page to learn more about the compassionate and thorough care we can provide to help keep you healthy. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call 330.434.0543.

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