Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that occurs when a woman’s hormones are out of balance. The name is derived from the small cysts that affected women grow on their ovaries (the cysts themselves are not harmful, but can lead to potentially dangerous hormone imbalances). PCOS can cause issues with a woman’s periods and also affect the ability to become pregnant. Additionally, it can lead to unpleasant aesthetic issues and even serious long-term health problems like diabetes and heart disease if not properly treated.
To be diagnosed with PCOS, a patient must be experiencing at least two of the following:
- Excess Androgen Production – Larger-than-normal levels of male hormones (androgens).
- Irregular Bleeding – This can mean periods lasting longer than 35 days, fewer than eight menstrual cycles in a given year, no periods for at least 4 months or longer, and prolonged periods with minimal or heavier bleeding.
- Enlarged Polycystic Ovaries – When polycystic ovaries become enlarged and contain numerous cysts that surround the eggs.
While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of PCOS, the condition is related to abnormal hormone levels in the body, including unusually high levels of insulin and male hormones like testosterone. These abnormal hormone levels can lead to weight gain, acne and excess body hair, as well as other health issues, like diabetes, heart disease and infertility.
Treatment of PCOS generally focuses on managing a patient’s individual concerns, such as infertility, acne or obesity. The first steps may require lifestyle changes like eating healthy and exercising more regularly. Treatment options often depend on the specific needs and symptoms the patient is experiencing, as well as their deciding factors on fertility. For women with PCOS who do not currently wish to become pregnant, we often recommend birth control pills to help balance hormone levels or combining birth control with anti-androgen pills or insulin-sensitizing drugs. If a patient decides they would like to try becoming pregnant, treatment may focus on improving fertility chances with medications that can be used to induce ovulation or in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Early diagnosis and treatment of PCOS is crucial. The sooner treatments begin the more chance you have to control your symptoms and prevent potential long-term health concerns. For more information on PCOS or to request an appointment today, please contact Dr. Kristine Gould at Gynecology Associates of Gwinnett. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ for more news and updates.