Polycystic ovarian syndrome – usually called PCOS in the medical world – is one of the most significant causes of infertility in women. The PCOS Foundation reports that as many as 15 percent of women of childbearing age are affected by PCOS. Here’s what you need to know about PCOS, courtesy of New York Reproductive Wellness.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a Hormonal Problem
PCOS has a strong effect on many hormones in a woman’s body. In addition to the primary female sex hormones – estrogen and progesterone – women also produce small amounts of the male hormone testosterone. Two other hormones, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and pituitary hormone luteinizing hormone (LH), trigger the changes associated with the menstrual cycle, such as the production of an egg in an ovary. In PCOS, testosterone rises, and the balance among estrogen, progesterone, LH and FSH changes.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Other Health Issues
In addition to its effect on fertility, PCOS can cause other problems. Insulin regulation is affected by PCOS, which means blood sugar levels may rise and the body cells can become less responsive to insulin’s effects (insulin resistance). As the blood sugar levels increase, it can cause cellular damage anywhere in the body. PCOS also increases the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. About half of all women with PCOS also have sleep apnea, according to the medical reference book UpToDate.
Two of the most obvious symptoms of PCOS are menstrual irregularities and being overweight or obese. Other visible signs include excess hair, especially on the face, and male pattern baldness. The hormonal fluctuations of PCOS can cause acne. Women with PCOS are also prone to multiple ovarian cysts (polycystic means multiple cysts). These can occur without causing any signs or may be mildly to moderately painful. Even when women with PCOS have periods, they often don’t ovulate, which is why they are less likely to conceive.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The symptoms above are usually enough to make a presumptive diagnosis of PCOS. In addition, blood tests of the various hormones affected in PCOS can help confirm the diagnosis. Ovarian cysts can sometimes be felt during a pelvic examination, and an ovarian ultrasound can demonstrate their presence. PCOS cannot be cured, so medical management is key. Birth control pills are often used to regulate menstrual periods and decrease excessive facial hair growth. Other medications can promote ovulation and increase the chances of conception for a woman who wants to become pregnant. Weight loss is vitally important, not only for overall health reasons, but because it too can help with menstrual irregularities by decreasing insulin resistance.
If you think you have PCOS, contact New York Reproductive Wellness for an evaluation. As one of the top fertility clinics in New York city, we offer many different treatments and fertility options for both men and women. We focus on natural methods and use them whenever possible.