Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, affects millions of women in the U.S.
Estimates of how many women in America are affected by PCOS are somewhere between 5 and 7 million. September draws attention nationally, and even internationally, to the plight of women dealing with PCOS. PCOS Awareness Month is a federally designated event in the United States.
The aim of PCOS Awareness Month is to help improve the lives of those affected by PCOS and to help them to overcome their symptoms as well as prevent and reduce their risks for life-threatening related diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cancer. Many women who have PCOS don’t even know it and its symptoms can vary from woman to woman. And because there is no single test to diagnose PCOS, health care providers often miss it. Common symptoms include irregular periods or no periods, fertility problems, unwanted hair growth, weight gain, thinning hair on the head, and acne.
PCOS can be difficult to diagnose.
There is no one special test that can determine a PCOS diagnosis. Instead, doctors must rely on symptoms, blood tests, a physical exam, and sometimes a pelvic ultrasound to determine whether you have polycystic ovary syndrome. Your doctor will start by asking questions about your medical history of symptoms such as irregular or skipped periods, weight changes, hair changes, and acne.
While some women with PCOS have several telltale signs of this metabolic condition caused by multiple hormone imbalances, others may have just two or three symptoms. It’s important to let your doctor know about any and all of the health issues and concerns you have been experiencing.
The Louisiana infertility specialists at Fertility Answers use these three main symptoms to help diagnose PCOS. It’s important to note that you do not need all three to be diagnosed with PCOS:
- Irregular periods – which means the ovaries don’t regularly release eggs (ovulation).
- Excess androgen – high levels of ‘male hormones’ in the body, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair.
- Polycystic ovaries – the ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) which surround the eggs and can be seen on an ultrasound.
What causes PCOS?
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it often runs in families. Women with PCOS are more likely to have a mother or sister with PCOS, too.
A main underlying problem with PCOS is a hormonal imbalance. In women with PCOS, the ovaries make more androgens than normal. Androgens are male hormones that females also make. High levels of these hormones affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation.
Researchers also think insulin may be linked to PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that controls the change of sugar, starches, and other food into energy for the body to use or store. Many women with PCOS have too much insulin in their bodies because they have problems using it. Excess insulin appears to increase the production of androgen. High androgen levels can lead to the common symptoms of the disorder, including acne, excessive hair growth, upper body weight gain and problems with ovulation.
Learn more about polycystic ovary syndrome.
If you’re curious about whether the symptoms you are experiencing may be PCOS, talking frankly with your gynecologist or one of our Louisiana infertility specialists will help you find answers. To learn more about polycystic ovary syndrome, contact us to schedule a consultation with a Louisiana fertility specialist.