Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine system disorder that commonly affects women in their reproductive years. Women with PCOS often have multiple small cysts on their ovaries and experience irregular menstrual periods. PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women and although the exact cause is unknown, it is believed to be the result of a hormonal imbalance. In women with PCOS, the ovaries produce more androgens than normal. High levels of these hormones affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation, and may also cause troubling symptoms such as excess hair growth and acne.
Symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
The most common symptom of PCOS is irregular menstrual periods, however the overproduction of male hormones (androgens) may also cause the following symptoms to occur:
- Excessive facial and body hair
- Severe acne
- Oily skin
- Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
- Weight gain
- Absence of ovulation
PCOS may also cause pelvic pain, anxiety and depression. Women with PCOS may experience infertility because ovulation often does not occur.
Diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
PCOS is diagnosed through a physical examination and a review of symptoms. A pelvic examination is also performed to examine the reproductive organs for signs of growths or other abnormalities. Blood tests are performed to measure hormone levels and an ultrasound may be used to view images of the uterus and the ovaries.
Treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Treatment for PCOS focuses on treating the symptoms and addressing individual concerns such as infertility, weight gain or acne. Since symptoms vary, the approach may be focused on a combination of treatments, such as:
- Regulating the menstrual cycle
- Reducing excessive hair growth
- Stimulating ovulation
- Managing weight gain
Birth control pills may be prescribed to reduce male hormone levels, control menstrual cycles and to help to clear acne. Several medications that stimulate ovulation can help women with PCOS become pregnant. Low doses of clomiphene may be used to stimulate ovulation, or gonadotropin hormones may be administered by injection. In severe cases, a surgical procedure may be performed to increase the chance of ovulation. Weight gain may be addressed with lifestyle modifications that include a healthy diet and exercise.
Complications of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Left untreated, PCOS can lead to complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or metabolic syndrome. Untreated PCOS may lead to endometrial hyperplasia, a condition in which the lining of the uterus becomes too thick. This condition increases the risk of endometrial cancer.
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