Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects about 10% of women of childbearing age, according to the Office of Women’s Health. Though PCOS can develop at any time once you start menstruating, most women don’t realize they have the common health condition until they start to experience difficulties getting pregnant in their 20s and 30s.
In addition to infertility, PCOS is also linked to many chronic health conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure. At Cary OB/GYN, with locations in Cary and Morrisville, North Carolina, our caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable OB/GYNs want you to know more about PCOS so you can get the care you need early to prevent long-term health complications.
PCOS and your hormones
Every month, your reproductive hormones work together to get your body ready for pregnancy, stimulating the maturity of an egg in your ovaries, then releasing the egg, and getting your uterus ready for implantation. The start of your period marks the beginning of each menstrual cycle.
PCOS develops from an imbalance in hormones, usually elevations in insulin or luteinizing hormone — the hormone that stimulates the release of the egg from the ovary. High levels of these hormones increase production of androgen, which is a male sex hormone. These hormonal abnormalities may interfere with normal ovulation by affecting egg development or preventing the release of an egg.
PCOS affects all races and ethnicities. You may be more at risk of developing the gynecological condition if you’re obese or it runs in your family. PCOS also increases your risk of many chronic health conditions, including:
- High cholesterol
- Sleep apnea
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Depression and anxiety
- Endometrial cancer
- Fatty liver
- Miscarriage or premature birth
Researchers are still investigating the connection between PCOS and these health issues.
Recognizing signs and symptoms of PCOS
You may develop symptoms of PCOS during your very first menstrual cycle. However, PCOS can develop at any age. Recognizing the signs of PCOS is important so you can start care early and prevent the onset of health-related complications.
Common signs and symptoms include:
- Irregular periods (fewer than eight in a year)
- Abnormally heavy periods
- Pelvic pain
- Unexpected hair growth on your chin or face (hirsutism)
- Hair loss similar to male-patterned baldness
- Severe acne
- Weight gain
- Difficulty losing weight
- Patches of dark skin on your neck, under your breasts, or in your groin area
- Difficulty sleeping
- Polycystic ovaries
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with one of our experienced OB/GYNs for an evaluation.
Getting the right diagnosis
Many women go years without a proper diagnosis because their symptoms go unnoticed or are attributed to other health issues. No single test can diagnose PCOS; we may need to rule out other conditions before we can provide a definitive diagnosis.
Once other conditions have been ruled out, we diagnose PCOS if you’re exhibiting at least two of the following symptoms:
- Irregular periods
- Higher than normal androgen levels
- Facial hair, male-patterned baldness, or severe acne (symptoms of high androgen levels)
- Many ovarian cysts on one or both of your ovaries
We can’t cure your PCOS, but we can develop a treatment plan to help you manage symptoms, address your infertility issues, and prevent long-term health complications.
Treatment for your PCOS
Treatment for your PCOS focuses on your specific health needs and concerns — whether you’re struggling with infertility or acne — and may include lifestyle changes and medications. Our OB/GYNs specialize in infertility, and we may recommend lifestyle changes initially to promote weight loss and then provide medication to stimulate ovulation and increase your chances of pregnancy.
For the management of PCOS symptoms, we recommend you get to and maintain a healthy weight, engage in regular exercise, and eat a healthy carb-controlled diet. To regulate your menstrual cycle, we prescribe hormonal contraception, such as a hormonal intrauterine device (IUD).
You may also benefit from anti-androgen medication to minimize the symptoms caused by high androgen levels. Metformin isn’t FDA-approved for the treatment of PCOS, but the diabetes medication is sometimes prescribed to improve insulin levels and lower blood sugar, and it may help regulate ovulation after a few months of treatment.
PCOS is common, and many women may not realize they have the gynecological condition until years after it initially develops. For comprehensive OB/GYN care from an experienced and knowledgeable team, contact us today by calling or sending a message online.