PCOS is hormonal disorder that affects an estimated five to ten percent of women. For a general summary, see our ‘About PCOS’ section.
Common PCOS signs and symptoms include the following:
- Irregular menstrual periods—Menstrual disorders can include absent periods, periods that occur infrequently
- Infertility—PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility.
- Obesity—Up to 80% of women with PCOS are obese.
- Excess hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen, or upper thighs—This condition, called hirsutism, affects more than 70% of women with PCOS.
- Severe acne or acne that occurs after adolescence and does not respond to usual treatments
- Patches of thickened, velvety, darkened skin called acanthosis nigricans
- Multiple small cysts on the ovaries as seen on the Ultrasound
PCOS is frequently associated with decreased sensitivity to insulin (i.e., insulin resistance), which in turn leads to higher chances of diabetes mellitus, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. PCOS can also predispose to uterine cancer.
Various studies done in India indicate that about 1 in 10 women suffer from PCOS
The susceptibility to PCOS is often inherited; however the precise cause is unknown.
Diagnosis requires obtaining blood samples for a variety of hormones, including those produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands, pituitary gland and thyroid gland. A full physical examination and screening for cholesterol, triglyceride, glucose and insulin should also be part of a complete evaluation.
PCOS is a gynecological hormone disorder with maximum implications on the reproductive and gynecological aspects.
At the present time, doctors can only treat the individual symptoms of women with PCOS. Besides weight loss which helps keeping the disorder in check, medications are given based on your concerns and symptoms.
There is often a low body image attached to many of the symptoms of PCOS, particularly facial and body hair, infertility and obesity. Some women may even suffer from depression as a result of the symptoms. Join our network of warriors fighting PCOS everyday
The symptoms of PCOS can vary from woman to woman; therefore, a woman often does not realize she has the syndrome. Public information and awareness about the symptoms and the serious nature of the disorder are crucial to identifying women in need of treatment. In addition, for women to make informed decisions about their health management, the information upon which they base their decisions should be accurate, current, based on well-performed research studies and obtained from well-informed and well-trained physicians and other caregivers. This information must be easy for the general public to find and understand.
Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body’s cells do not respond to the effects of normal levels of insulin. When the body does not respond to insulin, the level of glucose in the blood increases. This may cause more insulin to be produced as the body tries to move glucose into cells. Insulin resistance can lead to diabetes mellitus.
Acanthosis nigricans: a type of skin change seen as darkened patches of thicker, velvety skin. The development of acanthosis nigricans in women with PCOS is likely related to insulin resistance and/or excess weight.
When higher than normal levels of androgens are produced, the ovaries may stop releasing an egg each month (a process called ovulation). High androgen levels also cause the unwanted hair growth and acne seen in many women with PCOS.
Irregular menstrual periods can lead to infertility and, in some women, a thick lining of the uterus, which may eventually lead to uterine cancer.
PCOS increases a woman’s risk of serious conditions that may have lifelong consequences.
Insulin resistance increases the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease. Another condition that is associated with PCOS is metabolic syndrome. This syndrome contributes to both diabetes and heart disease.
Women with PCOS tend to have a condition called endometrial hyperplasia, in which the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) becomes too thick. This condition increases the risk of endometrial cancer.
A variety of treatments are available to address the problems of PCOS. Treatment is tailored to each woman according to symptoms, other health problems, and whether she wants to become pregnant.
Combined hormonal birth control pills can be used for long-term treatment in women with PCOS who do not wish to become pregnant. Combined hormonal pills contain both estrogen and progestin. These birth control pills regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce hirsutism and acne by decreasing androgen levels. They also decrease the risk of endometrial cancer.
For overweight women, weight loss alone often regulates the menstrual cycle. Even a small weight loss of 2-3kgs can be helpful in making menstrual periods more regular. Weight loss also has been found to improve cholesterol and insulin levels and relieve symptoms such as excess hair growth and acne.
Insulin-sensitizing drugs used to treat diabetes frequently are used in the treatment of PCOS. These drugs help the body respond to insulin. In women with PCOS, they can help decrease androgen levels and improve ovulation. Restoring ovulation helps make menstrual periods regular and more predictable.
Successful ovulation is the first step toward pregnancy. For overweight women, weight loss often accomplishes this goal. Medications also may be used to cause ovulation. Surgery on the ovaries has been used when other treatments do not work. In vitro fertilization/IVF is the last resort but also a very effective form of treatment for infertility related to PCOS.