It is estimated to affect up to ten percent of females in the United States, which is about five million women. It can cause infertility, heart disease and cancer. It is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and it is affecting women everywhere. Few women have heard of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome because it is still a fairly new disease. While some aspects have been studied since 1935, most of what is known was not discovered until the 1990s. Family doctors and gynecologists are still largely unfamiliar with this disease.
So what is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome? PCOS is a disease in which a woman’s hormonal system is out of balance, causing irregularities in the body, including male-type body changes and problems with ovulation. It is important to know that PCOS is not an STD and cannot be transmitted through sexual intercourse. The two major causes of PCOS are family history of PCOS or a history of diabetes in the family.
When the ovary’s hormone levels are unbalanced, cysts can form on the ovaries. These cysts make androgens, which are male sex hormones. While all women have some androgens, high levels of it are found in women with PCOS and cause the aforementioned male-type body changes. In addition to high levels of androgens, about half of the women with PCOS experience problems with insulin and blood sugar levels. The body makes excessive amounts of insulin and stores it, causing higher blood sugar levels. High levels of insulin also contribute to the high levels of androgens.
There are several symptoms of PCOS. Symptoms caused by large amounts of androgens include male patterns of baldness or thinning of the hair on the head and hair growth on the face, back, or chest. The hair growth does not need to be excessive to be a sign of PCOS. Symptoms resulting from excessive amounts of insulin include hyperglycemia, rapid weight gain and difficulty losing weight. Acne on the face, back or genitals, is also a symptom of PCOS. Other symptoms include no menstrual cycles, irregular cycles and repeated miscarriages. Women do not need to experience all of these symptoms to have PCOS.
Women with PCOS are at greater risk of experiencing other health problems. Having an irregular period or no period at all can lead to infertility. Not having a period for over a year can also increase a woman’s chances of getting uterine cancer. As a result of increased levels of blood sugar, about one in ten women develop type two diabetes before the age of 40. Other health problems associated with PCOS include heart disease, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and gestational diabetes in pregnant women.
There are a few ways to treat PCOS, however, there is no cure. First, it is important to watch what and how much you eat. Because the body is storing large amounts of insulin, it is recommended that a person with PCOS try to avoid foods with large amounts of sugar, like carbohydrates. A doctor or nutritionist can develop a diet plan best suitable for your body. It is also important to stay physically fit.
An additional treatment for PCOS is the medication Metformin. Metformin lowers insulin and androgen levels and helps to promote normal ovarian function. Side effects include frequent nausea and diarrhea in the beginning. Metformin is not a proper treatment for all women with PCOS.
If you think that you may have PCOS, make an appointment for a gynecological exam. A gynecologist will be able to evaluate some of the symptoms and check to see if any cysts have formed on your ovaries. A family doctor will also take blood samples to test for high levels of blood sugar or androgens.
For more information about PCOS, consult your family doctor, or go to one of the following Web sites: www.webmd.com or www.pcosupport.org.