Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

What is PCOS?
PCOS stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome. This is a condition caused by a hormonal imbalance leading to high levels of testosterone. Because of these changes, women with PCOS are at higher risk for cancer of the lining of the uterus, infertility, high blood pressure and diabetes.

What causes PCOS?
The cause of PCOS is not entirely clear. The condition stems from high levels of male hormone or androgens. Why this occurs in some women is not known although some authorities believe it is due to overproduction of testosterones within the ovary. There is some evidence suggesting there may be a genetic component involved in developing PCOS. In addition, obesity and insulin resistance also contribute.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?
Symptoms of PCOS include irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles, infertility and signs of high testosterone levels such as increased hair growth on face or body or acne. PCOS is often associated with obesity and insulin resistance.

How is PCOS diagnosed?
PCOS is diagnosed based on a woman’s symptoms and lab tests including testosterone level. In some cases, ultrasound of the ovaries may be performed to aid with making the diagnosis.

How is PCOS treated?
Treatment for PCOS differs depending on the presenting complaints. In women who are suffering from irregular or absent menstrual cycles, one of the main goals is to ensure that the lining of the uterus is shed periodically to prevent pre-cancer or cancer. These women may be placed on birth control pills to regulate hormone levels and keep the uterine lining healthy.

For women who are diagnosed with PCOS and desire pregnancy, a medication that can increase the likelihood of ovulation can be used.

Some women with PCOS also have signs of pre-diabetes. These women may be given a medication, metformin, which can increase their body’s ability to utilize sugar efficiently.

Women who have PCOS and are overweight or obese can benefit from healthy diet, exercise and weight loss. Many women who attain a healthy weight may notice their menstrual periods ‘self-regulating’ and are more likely to ovulate (or release an egg) each month, increasing their chances of conceiving.