Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is a type of medical disorder involving hormonal imbalance of the female sex hormones. Women affected by PCOS have difficulties getting pregnant. They also find that their menstrual cycles keep on changing and they have bouts of acne, excessive hair growth and obesity. As the name implies, women with the syndrome have polycystic ovaries or small and inflamed cysts in the ovaries.
The treatment methods for polycystic ovarian syndrome are designed to help in preventing the condition from intensifying into more serious medical conditions. These may involve living a healthy lifestyle and taking certain medications to promote regular menstrual cycle and ovulation as well as reduce excessive hair growth.
What happens to women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
Although majority of women with PCOS have polycystic ovaries, a number of women with the condition have normal-looking ovaries.
- Missed menstrual periods
Women suffering from PCOS often have menstrual problems which could either be missed or irregular periods. This is caused by the excessive amount of androgen produced by the ovary which disrupts proper growth and release of eggs.
- Excessive hair growth
This also occurs due to the overproduction of androgen which results in hirsutism, a condition characterized by excess body and facial hair. Too much androgen can also cause androgenic alopecia, a condition often referred to as male-pattern baldness.
Obesity is another symptom of PCOS and the affected women find it extremely difficult to lose weight.
- Skin changes
Women with PCOS find that their acne gets worse and notice that the creases on their breasts, neck, groin and armpits are darkening.
How does Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome occur?
Under normal conditions, the ovary releases an egg to mature for every menstrual cycle. In PCOS, these eggs are not released and do not mature, thereby forming small cysts in a woman’s ovary. PCOS is caused by changes in the hormonal levels in the woman’s body, affecting the proper development of eggs for every menstrual cycle. What causes these hormonal changes to occur is not yet fully understood by the experts. In PCOS, the hormone in question is androgen which has a role in regulating ovulation and menstrual cycle. The overproduction of androgen could be due to high levels of insulin, LH hormones produced by the pituitary gland, congenital adrenal hyperplasia as well as other forms of adrenal abnormalities.
How prevalent is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
PCOS is one of the common reproductive problems in females, affecting 1 in every 15 women. The onset of PCOS symptoms may start during the teenage years but diagnosis may be done later, usually when a woman is between 20 and 30 years old. Oftentimes, the condition seems to run in the family as most of the sufferers have sisters or mothers suffering from the disorder as well.
What will happen if Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome goes untreated?
Women who exhibit the symptoms of PCOS should visit the doctor for early diagnosis in order to prevent the condition from escalating into a more serious medical problem. PCOS increases the risk of a woman to develop grave medical conditions, like:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Gestational diabetes
- Acute liver inflammation
- Endometrial cancer
- Uterine bleeding
- Sleep apnea
What does PCOS diagnosis involve?
The woman will go through myriad of tests until she is conclusively diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian syndrome. This may involve ruling out other medical problems as well as conducting the following tests:
- Medical examination
The doctor often performs this by inquiring about the symptoms, menstrual cycles and medical history of the patient.
- Physical exam
This is often done to search for signs of the disorder like high blood pressure and excess hair growth. The doctor will also check the body mass index of the patient to determine whether or not she meets the healthy weight.
- Blood test
This is done to rule out menstrual abnormalities. Blood test may also include measuring the patient’s glucose levels.
- Pelvic exam
Pelvic exam is conducted to look for abnormalities such as growths and masses in the reproductive organ. Ultrasound in the pelvic area is also done to examine the thickness of the uterine lining as well as the ovaries.
How is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome treated?
PCOS treatment is aimed at addressing the concerns of individual patients. This may involve:
- Taking medications
The doctor may prescribe medications to address excessive hair growth and severe acne breakouts. Drugs may also be used to promote ovulation and regulate the menstrual cycle. This may involve using birth control pills, over-the-counter acne medicines, diabetes medicines and fertility medicines.
Surgical intervention like laparoscopic ovarian drilling might be an option for those who are eyeing pregnancy.
- Healthy diet and lifestyle
The first line of treatment for polycystic ovarian syndrome is a healthy diet and lifestyle. This helps in alleviating the unpleasant symptoms of PCOS. Patients are urged to eat healthy foods and do regular exercises which help in lowering the blood pressure and maintaining optimum weight.
There is no cure for polycystic ovarian syndrome but the symptoms can be relieved by the variety of treatment options.