Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal disorder affecting an estimated 6% to 12% of U.S. women of childbearing age. Women suffering from PCOS have increased insulin resistance, which leads to a disruption of normal female hormones and an increase of the male hormone, testosterone. This imbalance can cause the growth of numerous small cysts inside the ovaries, along with a multitude of other problems.
The onset of PCOS begins early, but symptoms usually appear when a female begins puberty. These include, but are not limited to:
• Obesity or undesirable weight gain.
• Absence of, or irregular, periods.
• Difficulty becoming pregnant or pregnancy complications. (PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women.)
• Skin issues such as acne, psoriasis, skin tags, etc.
• Loss of hair or development of male-pattern baldness.
• Mood swings or depression.
• Inflammation, which may cause brain fog, joint pain, aches and fatigue.
Diagnosing PCOS is not simple, it is what physicians refer to as a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning all other issues have been eliminated to the point of arriving at a PCOS diagnosis. Because of this, many women go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for many years. Therefore, it is extremely important to visit a gynecologist who has experience in diagnosing and treating PCOS, so it is not missed.
Being overweight alone can cause severe health problems. Compounded with PCOS, other serious issues can occur, including:
• Diabetes or prediabetes.
• Cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
• Insulin resistance. (Too much body fat and the production of excessive androgens can wreak havoc on the liver and the important balance of lipids within the body.)
• Endometrial cancer. (Infrequent periods can result in an accumulation of the endometrium, leaving PCOS sufferers three times more likely to develop endometrial cancer.)
• Hypertension. (PCOS-related symptoms, like obesity and hormonal imbalance, often will raise blood pressure.
Though PCOS is a lifelong condition and can lead to serious issues, it can be controlled, especially if treated early. Lifestyle changes, medication and surgery, when warranted, are some things that can help. You are the best judge of any bodily changes that might be of concern. By seeing a physician immediately when you suspect something is wrong, you stand an excellent chance of correcting troublesome symptoms of PCOS before they become detrimental to your reproductive and overall health.
– James Haley, MD, FACOG and FPMRS, is a double board-certified OB-GYN and urogynecologist with Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists in Canton and Woodstock.