Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most commonly found reason for menstrual irregularities and the most common endocrine (hormonal) disorder in women of the reproductive age.
The primary cause of PCOS is an imbalance of hormone levels. Serum testosterone and androstenedione, two male-like hormones, tend to be at elevated levels in women with PCOS. Because of this, “hyperandrogenism” is a term used to describe PCOS.
When these hormone levels are elevated and outbalance estrogen levels, the eggs inside the follicles do not grow normally. Although new follicles develop each month, the abnormal hormonal levels cause them to shrink and turn into cysts. PCOS can be diagnosed by identifying the cysts through ultrasound.
This hormonal imbalance can lead not only to infertility, but also abnormal production of breast milk, diabetes, heart disease, uterine abnormalities and uterine cancer. Because insulin resistance and PCOS are strongly connected, women who show signs of both have a 50 percent chance of developing diabetes. During pregnancy, they have a 40 percent chance of developing gestational diabetes.
Symptoms of PCOS include irregular or absent menstrual cycles, weight gain or trouble losing weight, acne, unusual hair growth (on the face, back and chest) and male pattern baldness. High blood sugar and high cholesterol are also symptoms of PCOS.
Although PCOS is not considered a primarily hereditary disease, women with family history of PCOS, obesity, diabetes and infertility are considered at higher risk.
Unfortunately, PCOS cannot be cured. It can be treated, however. Through medications, better nutrition and weight loss, PCOS can be managed. These steps will also lower the risks of diabetes and heart disease. Women may need to seek cosmetic services for hair growth or loss and acne.
For women trying to become pregnant, both the male and female must complete the fertility examination. Assuming PCOS is the reason for infertility, women may receive fertility medications such as Clomid, Follistim or Gonal-F. Injections of hCG are used to stimulate ovulation for pregnancy. Women with PCOS have a higher risk of adverse reactions to fertility drugs, so they should be closely monitored.
PCOS cannot be entirely prevented, however the sooner it is identified the easier it can be to manage and prevent further health complications. For those who are not trying to conceive, hormonal contraceptives and birth control can help symptoms and regulate the menstrual cycle.