Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a health condition that causes an imbalance in woman’s hormone levels and usually occurs during the reproductive age (ages 15 to 45). Although the exact cause of PCOS is unknown. It is believed that women with PCOS produce elevated male hormones called androgen than usual which leads to symptoms such as irregular periods, acne, extra facial hair, or hair loss from the head. PCOS can cause female infertility, affecting 6% to 12% of US women of reproductive age. PCOS can affect all women of various ethnicity but family history and obesity increase the risk of developing PCOS. Early diagnosis and treatment along with weight loss may reduce the risk of long-term complications such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

What are the symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Some of the symptoms of PCOS are:

  • Irregular menstrual cycle: Having fewer than 8 periods a year
  • Hirsutism: Growing too much hair on the face, chin, sideburn area, chest, or belly
  • Acne: Acne oily skin and pimples on the face, chest, and upper back
  • Infertility: Trouble getting pregnant
  • Obesity: Excessive weight gain
  • Male-pattern baldness: Thinning hair or hair loss on the scalp

How to diagnose Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

There is no single test to diagnose PCOS. Diagnosis can be made based on symptoms, physical examinations, and blood tests. Blood tests for pregnancy, prolactin level, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is recommended to rule out other medical conditions that can present with similar symptoms as PCOS. Two out of the three criteria listed below must be met for a diagnosis of PCOS:

  1. Irregular menstrual periods caused by anovulation or irregular ovulation.
  2. Elevated androgen levels which can be detected either with signs of excess hair growth, acne, or male-pattern balding or high androgen levels on blood tests.
  3. Polycystic ovaries on pelvic ultrasound.

How is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome treated?

PCOS has no cure but the symptoms can be managed with the following therapies:

  • Weight Loss: Healthy diet and regular physical activity can help relieve PCOS-related symptoms such as lowering blood glucose levels and improve regular menstrual cycle
  • Birth control pills – It is the main treatment for PCOS and helps improve symptoms such as irregular periods, acne, and facial hair. 
  • Fertility Drug: Clomiphene can help women with PCOS to get pregnant by inducing ovulation.
  • Anti-androgens – Spironolactone is a popular anti-androgen prescribed for PCOS and it works by blocking hormones that cause some PCOS symptoms like acne and facial hair growth. 
  • Progestin – It is a hormonal medication that helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and also lowers the risk of cancer of the uterus 
  • Metformin: Helps lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and helps to maintain a regular period.
  • Hair removal therapy: Eflornithine (Vaniqa) cream to slow the growth of excessive hair and laser therapy or electrolysis to remove unwanted hair from face and body

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