One of the most frequently occurring hormonal disorders in women of childbearing age is polycystic ovarian syndrome, more commonly called PCOS. Unlike other medical problems that impact only fertility, it sometimes affects sufferers in multiple ways. Recognizing the symptoms is often the trigger for seeking a diagnosis and treatment.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Overview
PCOS is a disorder of the endocrine system. The University of Chicago Medicine reports that this condition affects 5 to 10 percent of women during their reproductive years. According to the PCOS Awareness Association (PCOSAA), more than 7 million women suffer from this disorder, more than the number of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and breast cancer combined.
This hormonal problem typically appears during adolescence, although some patients develop no signs of it until their mid-20s. The condition continues to affect sufferers beyond their childbearing years. Two popular misconceptions are that all PCOS sufferers have ovaries that are polycystic and that all women with polycystic ovaries have PCOS.
The syndrome emerges when an individual’s ovaries manufacture too many androgens. This androgen excess typically occurs with an overproduction of luteinizing hormone, which the pituitary gland makes. The body also produces too many androgens in the form of testosterone when blood insulin levels are high.
PCOS symptoms vary among patients. PCOSAA reports these signs of the condition:
- Missed or irregular menstrual periods occur due to lack of ovulation.
- Gaining weight to the point of obesity that is hard to manage affects as many as half of PCOS women.
- Hirsutism (unwelcome hair growth) can affect the face, chest, back, arms, abdomen, toes, and thumbs.
- Low energy could be related to PCOS-linked sleep problems.
- Thinning head hair might occur during middle age.
- Fertility problems vary significantly from one patient to the next.
- Acne, skin tags, and darkened skin are among the skin changes linked to PCOS.
- Changes in mood can include anxiety and depression.
- Headaches occur due to changes in hormone levels.
- Sleep issues include insomnia and poor sleep connected to PCOS-associated sleep apnea.
- Pelvic pain might occur with menstrual periods or at other times and is sometimes accompanied by heavy bleeding.
While some PCOS patients are able to conceive without medical intervention, others require the services of a fertility specialist be become pregnant. After diagnosis, this physician can advise therapeutic options such as lifestyle modifications, ovulation induction, and specific treatments for both hirsutism and irregularities of the menstrual cycle.
Beyond these issues, it is important to treat PCOS because of the risks it causes for other medical conditions. The Mayo Clinic cites these:
- Type II diabetes
- Atypical cholesterol and lipid readings
- Metabolic syndrome
- A severe liver inflammation
- Sleep apnea
- Anxiety and depression
- Abnormal bleeding from the uterus
- Endometrial cancer
- Pregnancy-related high blood pressure or diabetes