PCOS is a hormonal disorder that often presents during adolescence and impacts roughly 10% of women. Multiple factors influence the hormonal imbalance experienced by individuals living with PCOS, including androgen excess, insulin resistance, and changes in the size and function of ovaries. The name polycystic ovary syndrome comes from the fact that one or both ovaries are enlarged and often contain multiple, fluid-filled sacs called follicles (not true cysts). Ovulation, the monthly release of an egg from the ovary may not occur, resulting in irregular periods. Androgen excess refers to producing abnormally high levels of the hormone testosterone. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar by allowing cells to remove sugar from the blood stream. Insulin resistance means cells do not readily respond to the hormone, resulting in the need to produce extra insulin.
The exact cause of PCOS is not known. Individuals with a first degree relative (mother or sister) with PCOS are more likely to develop the condition.
Because individuals with PCOS may not ovulate each month, irregular periods are common, including missed periods followed by prolonged bleeding. Infertility is also common due to infrequent ovulation. High testosterone levels may cause greater acne, excess hair growth on the face, back, and chest, and male-pattern thinning of hair on the head. Individuals living with PCOS may experience weight gain and difficulty losing weight.
A diagnosis is made based on a person’s history, a physical exam, blood work to test hormone levels and/or an ultrasound to assess the appearance of ovaries.
Some people living with PCOS need no assistance getting pregnant. For those who do need help, a combination of lifestyle modifications and medications greatly increase the chance of conceiving. The practitioners at North Atlanta Ob/Gyn are an excellent resource for this.
Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are important lifestyle treatments for individuals with PCOS. Birth control is frequently used to regulate periods and reduce androgen levels, resulting in less acne and irregular hair growth. A medication called metformin also helps regulate cycles, while reducing insulin resistance. Other medications to address acne and hair growth are available if necessary, your provider will discuss the options with you.
Individuals living with PCOS are at an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. Metabolic syndrome - a combination of elevated blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure - is more common in people with PCOS. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of cardiovascular disease that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. PCOS also increases the risk of developing uterine cancer. Working with a provider to manage PCOS can significantly reduce the likelihood that a person develops any of these complications.
If you feel you may have polycystic ovarain syndrome (PCOS), contact North Atlanta Ob/Gyn to be evaluated by one of our board-certified practitioners.