What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

PCOS describes a metabolic disorder where hormones may not be as effective and can lead to a hormonal imbalance. During PCOS, the egg may not develop as it should or may not be released during ovulation, which can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle, male hormone production, metabolic rate, and fertility.

Women with PCOS usually have too many male hormones, or androgens, and may experience long-term complications, including acne, weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Symptoms of PCOS vary but are often characterized by an irregular menstrual cycle. You may have fewer than eight cycles per year, or they may come more frequently than every 28 days. In some cases, menstrual cycles end altogether.

Other symptoms include:

  • Excessive hair growth in areas men usually develop hair
  • Acne
  • Skin tags
  • Darkening of the skin, especially in creases such as the neck and groin
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Thinning hair as in male-pattern baldness

What causes PCOS?

PCOS may have a genetic component which can affect the receptors for various hormones in the body. Excess insulin, a hormone that helps your cells utilize sugar, may also play a role in PCOS. You may have excess insulin if your body doesn’t use the hormone well, and sugar builds up in your bloodstream, such as with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

How is PCOS diagnosed?

PCOS is diagnosed by clinical history, a thorough exam, lab tests and occasionally an ultrasound to check for cysts on the ovaries.

How is PCOS treated?

A strong focus on lifestyle changes such as nutrition and exercise, occasionally discussing nutritional depletion will be discussed. Often, additional treatments will be discussed including hormonal control or adding in medication to combat the male hormone effect or trying to improve sensitivity to insulin.

If your menstrual cycle is irregular, hormonal birth control pills containing estrogen and progesterone can help put your estrogen and androgen levels in balance. You may also benefit from a 10-14 day course of progestin therapy every month or two.

If you’re facing infertility due to PCOS, the fertility drug, clomiphene, can help stimulate ovulation so you successfully become pregnant. Metformin, an oral medication used to treat type 2 diabetes, can lower your insulin levels and help with androgen production.