Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Polycystic ovary syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, is a hormonal disorder that afflicts women of reproductive age.  PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age, and one of the most common causes of infertility. It’s a health problem that occurs because the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens, male sex hormones usually present in women in small amounts. It impacts about 10 percent of women overall, and the name is derived from the numerous small cysts that can form in the ovaries (although this does not occur in every case). Regardless of the symptoms experienced, PCOS can be a challenging reproductive condition to live with. Let’s explore it in-depth.

How do I know if I have PCOS?

A doctor will diagnose you with PCOS. Most women are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s, some women never get diagnosed, or only diagnosed during pelvic or abdominal surgery, but you can find out at any age after puberty. Your risk may be higher if you have a family member (mother, sister, or aunt) with PCOS or if you are obese. It is often a leading cause of infertility, so some women will seek help from their doctor because they cannot become pregnant and get diagnosed with PCOS.

Some symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Irregular menstrual cycle: Women with PCOS may miss periods or have fewer than eight periods a year. Some cease to have periods at all. This inconsistency can often cause concern and prompt women to see their doctors and lead to their diagnosis. 
  • Menstrual pain: While some women lose their period altogether, others experience painful period symptoms. The hormone imbalance can cause painful cramping and bloating. 
  • Acne: If you have acne on your face, chest, and upper back, then this may be a sign of PCOS.
  • Weight gain: You may experience unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
  • Changes in your hair: People with PCOS sometimes have hair on their face, chin, or parts of their body where men usually have hair. They may also have thinning hair or male-pattern baldness. 
  • Darkening of skin: This may occur along the creases of your nick, your groin, or underneath your breasts.
  • Depression: Women with polycystic ovary syndrome are more likely to experience anxiety and/or depression to some degree. Studies show that 27 percent to approximately 50 percent of women with PCOS report being depressed, compared to around 19 percent of women without PCOS.

What is the treatment for PCOS?

While there’s no cure for PCOS, the management of symptoms can alleviate pain and discomfort from the reproductive condition. Here are some ways you can do this…

  1. Lose weight. If you’ve gained weight from PCOS, you can incorporate healthy eating habits and regular physical activity into your routine to alleviate PCOS-related symptoms. This can help to lower your blood glucose levels and improve the way your body uses insulin. This will help your body reach its normal hormone levels. Even a 10 percent loss in body weight can help regulate your menstrual cycle and improve pregnancy chances. 
  2. Remove hair or slow hair growth. New and unwanted hair growth can be an uncomfortable symptom of PCOS. Explore new methods of hair removal like laser hair removal that destroy the hair follicle or hair removal creams that help break down the protein structure of the hair. 
  3. Change your eating habits. Starting with small changes in your diet can positively impact your cyclical experience. Women with PCOS are often found to have higher than normal insulin levels. Include high-fiber veggies such as brussel sprouts and anti-inflammatory foods and spices such as turmeric and spinach.
  4. Birth control. BC is the most common PCOS treatment for women who do not want to get pregnant. Hormonal birth control options include pills, a dermal patch, vaginal ring, shots, or a hormonal/hormone-free IUD (intrauterine device). These can help restore regular periods, treat acne, and reduce or eliminate unwanted hair growth.
  5. Talk to your doctor about PCOS medications. Depending on your circumstances, some medicines can help with PCOS symptoms. For example, for women who are experiencing weight-gain despite a healthy diet and regular exercise, progestin can help alleviate symptoms. Additionally, some anti-androgen medications can help make a difference in how you look and feel.

“PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility, affecting 6% to 12% (as many as 5 million) of US women of reproductive age.”


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