PCOS Q & A
What is PCOS?
PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome, a chronic condition that can cause an array of symptoms and occurs when the normal ovulation cycle (the release of eggs) is disrupted. The cause of PCOS is unknown, but researchers believe it may be related to genetics, excess insulin or problems with insulin processing, or even chronic inflammatory conditions. In PCOS, hormonal irregularities including an increased production of androgen hormones cause tiny cysts to form inside the ovaries, interfering with normal ovulation.
What symptoms are caused by PCOS?
PCOS symptoms can vary from one person to another, but most commonly they include:
- irregular periods, including periods that occur less frequently or periods that are heavier or lighter than average
- absence of periods (amenorrhea)
- facial hair growth (also called hirsutism)
Women with PCOS are also at an increased risk for developing some serious medical conditions like diabetes and osteoporosis.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
Diagnosis of PCOS can usually be accomplished with a physical exam and a review of the patient’s medical history and symptoms. Blood tests and ultrasound exams can also be used to confirm a diagnosis and rule out other possible causes of symptoms. Early diagnosis of PCOS is important for initiating treatment as soon as possible so more serious complications like diabetes and osteoporosis may be prevented.
How can PCOS be treated?
Although there is no cure for PCOS, the symptoms can be successfully managed with ongoing care and treatment. Losing excess weight, being more physically active and eating a healthier diet can be very helpful in managing many symptoms, and medications like birth control pills or other hormone medications can be useful in regulating ovulation so periods are more normal. Birth control pills may also reduce the risk of osteoporosis in women who have very infrequent periods of no periods at all. In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove the cysts or to remove the ovaries in women who do not want to become pregnant. Fertility treatments may be effective for those women who do want to become pregnant but are having problems conceiving.