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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Explained: Causes, Signs & Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Have you ever noticed irregular periods, unexpected weight gain, or excess hair growth on your face or body? These could be natural signs of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a common hormonal disorder affecting women of reproductive age. PCOS can lead to various health concerns and symptoms that might seem overwhelming. So, what exactly is PCOS, […]

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Have you ever noticed irregular periods, unexpected weight gain, or excess hair growth on your face or body? These could be natural signs of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a common hormonal disorder affecting women of reproductive age. PCOS can lead to various health concerns and symptoms that might seem overwhelming. So, what exactly is PCOS, and how can you manage it effectively? 

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the causes, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for PCOS, helping you understand and take control of your health.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that affects women during their reproductive years. If you have PCOS, you might not have periods very often, or you may have periods that last for many days. Additionally, you might have high levels of a hormone called androgen in your body.

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With PCOS, many small fluid-filled sacs called cysts develop along the outer edge of the ovary. These cysts contain immature eggs, called follicles, which fail to release eggs regularly. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but early diagnosis and treatment, along with weight loss, can help lower the risk of long-term complications such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

What Age Does PCOS Start?

PCOS can start any time after puberty. Most women are diagnosed in their 20s or 30s, especially when they are trying to get pregnant. You may have a higher chance of getting PCOS if you have obesity or if other people in your family have PCOS. It is very common, affecting up to 15% of women of reproductive age.

Signs and Symptoms of PCOS

Signs and Symptoms of PCOS

The signs and symptoms of PCOS can vary, but the most common ones include:

  • Irregular Periods: Missing periods or having periods that are not regular. This can also include very heavy periods.
  • Abnormal Hair Growth: Excess hair growth on the face, chest, and abdomen (hirsutism), which affects up to 70% of people with PCOS.
  • Acne: Persistent acne on the face, chest, and back, even past the teenage years.
  • Obesity: Many people with PCOS struggle with obesity and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Darkening of the Skin: Patches of dark skin, especially in the folds of the neck, armpits, groin, and under the breasts, known as acanthosis nigricans.
  • Cysts: Enlarged ovaries or many small egg sac cysts visible on an ultrasound.
  • Skin Tags: Small flaps of extra skin, often found in the armpits or on the neck.
  • Thinning Hair: Hair thinning or balding on the head.
  • Infertility: Difficulty getting pregnant due to irregular ovulation.

What Causes PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but several factors play a role, including:

  • Genetics: PCOS tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic link.
  • Insulin Resistance: Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, which means their cells do not respond normally to insulin, leading to higher insulin levels that may cause the ovaries to produce more androgen.
  • Inflammation: Low-grade inflammation is common in women with PCOS, which can stimulate the ovaries to produce androgens.

Other Health Complications Associated with PCOS

Health Complications of PCOS

PCOS is not just about irregular periods or excess hair growth; it can lead to several serious health complications if not managed properly. Here’s a closer look at some of the potential health problems associated with PCOS:

Women with PCOS often have insulin resistance, which means their cells don't respond effectively to insulin. This condition can lead to higher blood sugar levels and eventually result in type 2 diabetes. Managing your weight, maintaining a healthy diet, and staying active are essential steps to reduce this risk.

  • High Blood Pressure:

PCOS can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, which is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Regular monitoring of blood pressure and lifestyle modifications can help manage this risk.

  • High Cholesterol:

Women with PCOS often have higher levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. This imbalance can lead to atherosclerosis, where the arteries become clogged and can result in heart disease. A healthy diet low in saturated fats and regular exercise can help manage cholesterol levels.

Sleep apnea, a condition where breathing stops and starts during sleep, is more common in women with PCOS, especially those who are overweight. This condition can lead to severe health issues, including increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Weight management and seeking treatment for sleep apnea are crucial.

  • Depression and Anxiety:

The physical symptoms of PCOS, along with hormonal imbalances, can contribute to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. It’s important to seek support from healthcare providers, including mental health professionals, to manage these symptoms.

  • Endometrial Cancer:

The prolonged absence of ovulation in women with PCOS can cause the endometrium (lining of the uterus) to thicken over time, increasing the risk of endometrial cancer. Regular monitoring and treatment to induce regular periods can help reduce this risk.

When to Consult a Doctor?

You should see your healthcare provider if you are worried about your periods, having trouble getting pregnant, or if you notice signs of excess androgen like new hair growth on your face and body, acne, or male-pattern baldness.

How is PCOS Diagnosed?

Diagnosing PCOS involves several steps, including:

  • Medical History: Discussing your menstrual cycle, weight changes, and symptoms.
  • Physical Exam: Checking for signs of excess hair growth, insulin resistance, and acne.
  • Blood Tests: Measuring hormone levels such as androgen, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and thyroid hormones to rule out other causes.
  • Pelvic Exam: Checking the reproductive organs for abnormalities.
  • Ultrasound: Examining the ovaries and the thickness of the lining of the uterus.

Treatment and Management of PCOS

While there is no cure for PCOS, there are several ways to manage the symptoms:

  • Lifestyle Changes: Healthy diet and regular exercise to manage weight and insulin levels.
  • Medications: Birth control pills to regulate periods, anti-androgens to reduce hair growth, and medications like metformin to improve insulin resistance.
  • Fertility Treatment: If you are trying to get pregnant, medications to stimulate ovulation might be recommended.
  • Cosmetic Treatments: To manage hair growth and acne, such as laser hair removal or topical treatments.

Can I Still Get Pregnant if I Have PCOS?

Yes, you can still get pregnant if you have PCOS. While it may be more challenging due to irregular ovulation, many women with PCOS can conceive with the help of lifestyle changes, medications, and fertility treatments. Working closely with your healthcare provider is crucial to developing a tailored plan to improve your chances of pregnancy.

Takeaway

PCOS is a common condition that affects many women during their reproductive years. Understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options is essential for managing PCOS effectively. 

Early diagnosis and lifestyle changes can significantly improve your quality of life and reduce the risk of long-term health issues. If you suspect you have PCOS, talk to your healthcare provider about testing and treatment options. 

At Natural Endocrinology Specialists™, we are here to help you navigate your hormonal health and provide personalized care to manage PCOS effectively.

Dr. Linda Khoshaba is the Leading Integrative Health and Hormone Doctor in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has extensive experience working in the field as a Hormone Specialist and Natural Endocrinologist.

7500 E. Pinnacle Peak Rd. Suite A 109
Scottsdale, AZ 85255

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