What is polycystic ovarian syndrome?
Wouldn’t it be great to get a period once or twice a year? Believe it or not, there are some women who only get a period 1-4 times a year. Unfortunately, this is not how our bodies are meant to function from a hormonal perspective.
When you get a period each month, this suggests your hormones are balanced. There is something magical when your body is in sync hormonally. When their periods are monthly, a lot of women feel more emotionally and physically balanced. There is a medical condition where this balance is off, causing many symptoms that are disruptive to your normal routine.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a medical condition that affects 5-10% of women. The hallmark of PCOS is irregular periods, excessive hair growth (in places you would rather not see it!), multiple cysts on the ovaries seen on a pelvic ultrasound, and infertility. Your hormones—estrogen and testosterone—are completely lopsided and irregular. Women with PCOS can have some or all of these symptoms:
- Irregular periods (Periods can be infrequent, heavy and unpredictable.)
- Excess hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen or upper thighs (This medical condition is called hirsutism.)
- Oily Skin
- Infertility (Irregular periods equals irregular ovulation so getting pregnant can be difficult.)
- Multiple small cysts on the ovaries seen on pelvic ultrasound
- Other long term health problems that can happen with PCOS include diabetes, heart disease, and cancer of the uterus.
Why do women get PCOS?
No one really knows the cause of PCOS. What is known is that there are increases in hormones called androgens and a resistance to another hormone called insulin. High androgen levels, mainly testosterone, cause unwanted hair growth all over the body, oily skin, and acne. The hormone insulin controls the sugar or glucose levels in our blood. Higher blood levels of insulin cause you to feel hungrier which can lead to weight gain and obesity.
If you have irregular periods and notice hair growth in unusual places, you should see your health care provider. The diagnosis of PCOS is primarily made on your medical history and physical exam. Blood work and a pelvic ultrasound will help in making a diagnosis of PCOS.
Treatment for PCOS depends on what symptoms you are experiencing. If you are having…
Irregular periods: Hormones, including the birth control pill or progesterone, are typically used to regulate and balance out your periods.
Hirsutism or excessive hair growth: Spironolactone is a medication used to help control excessive hair growth. The birth control pill is also helpful to treat unwanted hair growth. Alternatively, electrolysis and laser hair removal are ways to permanently get rid of the extra hair. A combination of medication and laser hair removal will be your best treatment for success.
Infertility: If you are trying to get pregnant, a medication is given to help you ovulate more regularly. Seeing an infertility specialist is typically necessary to make this happen.
Obesity: Weight loss can be even more difficult for girls/women with PCOS. Seeing a nutritionist is often the best approach to making successful food choices and achieving weight loss. Controlling your weight helps control irregular periods, excess hair growth, and acne. Creating a regular exercise routine along with a healthy diet will give you the best results.
Acne: A skin doctor or dermatologist may be the best way to avoid severe acne. Antibiotics or special medicated skin washes are also used to keep the acne under control.
For those suffering with PCOS, it’s bests to see a knowledgeable team of experts, including a gynecologist and nutritionist. The good news is there are great treatments to control the symptoms caused by PCOS.
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