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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Posted on December 11, 2015

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an important cause of menstrual irregularity and androgen excess (elevations in testosterone) in women. It is one of the most common endocrine disorders affecting up to 8% of women overall.  Symptoms often include irregular menstrual cycles, facial hair, thinning hair on the scalp, acne and infertility.   Affected women also tend to carry risk factors for cardiovascular disease including obesity, diabetes or pre-diabetes and high cholesterol.  Approximately 40-85% of women with PCOS are overweight or obese and carry a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus. PCOS is also associated with depression and anxiety, fatty liver and obstructive sleep apnea.Most women with PCOS grow many small cysts on their ovaries–these cysts are not necessarily harmful but are associated with hormonal imbalances that cause the manifestations noted above.

Making a diagnosis of PCOS involves taking a thorough medical history as well as performing a comprehensive physical exam.  If indicated, your doctor may also perform ovarian ultrasound (although this latter test may not be necessary to make the diagnosis), and blood testing to diagnose PCOS.  Once diagnosed, treatment for this disorder should be initiated promptly.   The first recommendation is usually weight loss through healthful dietary changes and daily exercise.  If you are overweight, even a small amount of weight loss will help the manifestations of PCOS.  There are also some medications that can be used to improve metabolic profiles as well as increase fertility by regulating menstrual cycles.  Birth control pills and Metformin are examples of common medications used to treat PCOS.  Hormonal therapies are also used to treat infertility associated with PCOS.

Having PCOS can significantly negatively impact quality of life and as such, should be promptly diagnosed and treated.  Early treatment can help control the symptoms of PCOS and may help prevent long term health problems.