14 Sep September is PCOS Awareness Month
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone disorder in women that is also the leading cause of female infertility. September is recognized as PCOS awareness month.
PCOS affects five to ten percent of women. PCOS is one of the most underdiagnosed diseases in the world, with less than 25 percent of women with PCOS being diagnosed. This common endocrine disorder can lead to lifelong complications and life-threatening conditions, including diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, and endometrial cancer.
While there is no cure for PCOS, lifestyle changes and medications can help patients manage symptoms. A variety of fertility treatments such as ovulation induction medications can help women with PCOS conceive.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition that can affect the ability of women of childbearing age to conceive. Polycystic ovary syndrome is considered one of the most common hormonal disorders in reproductive-aged women, affecting 1 in 10 women of childbearing age in the U.S. While the exact cause of PCOS is currently unknown, many experts think that genetics may be a factor.
Typically, women with polycystic ovary syndrome struggle with infrequent or lack of ovulation and evidence of increased androgen sex hormones (like excessive or male-pattern hair growth and acne). However, some women will have fewer outward signs of the syndrome. There is currently not “one test” to diagnose PCOS. A doctor can diagnose polycystic ovary syndrome by taking a thorough menstrual history, performing an ultrasound of the ovaries and a few blood tests.
At FSMG, we diagnose a woman with PCOS when she meets the criteria of irregular ovulation, clinical and laboratory signs of excess androgens and polycystic ovaries seen on ultrasound. However, not all women with polycystic ovary syndrome experience the same symptoms.
In addition to infertility, the severe consequences of PCOS can be uterine cancer and pre-cancer changes, diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome including fatty liver.
Common PCOS symptoms that patients might experience include:
- Infrequent periods
- Heavy and irregular periods, and spotting between periods
- Excessive hair growth on the face, chest, and abdomen
- Mood changes and depressive symptoms
- Weight gain or obesity
- Fatigue, or low energy levels
- Disordered sleep, insomnia, and sleep apnea
- Hair loss
What are the Options for PCOS Treatment?
Treatment for PCOS is individualized, depending on a patient’s goals and symptoms.
All women with PCOS who are overweight are encouraged to adopt lifestyle changes to promote weight loss. Even a 5-10 % loss of body weight can restore ovulation and increase pregnancy rates in some PCOS patients. Weight reduction is associated with improvement in excessive hair growth, also.
All women with PCOS need to protect the uterine lining from excessive growth and pre cancer and cancerous changes. This is accomplished with birth control pills, an IUD or progesterone.
Medications, such as spironolactone, can be used to reduce hair growth but only in non-pregnant women.
When women with PCOS hope to become pregnant, oral ovulation induction with medications such as clomiphene citrate or letrozole is often effective. However, about 30 percent of women will not ovulate even with high doses of these medications and may require injectable hormones to stimulate ovulation. If these treatment options do not result in a successful pregnancy, a physician may recommend more advanced reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
PCOS is a lifelong disease. For women looking to manage the long-term complications of PCOS, maintaining a healthy weight and exercise is essential. They should also have regular screening for diabetes and cholesterol and other complications as recommended by their primary care provider.
To learn more about this topic and speak to one of our physicians about fertility treatment, you can request a consultation here.