Polycystic ovary syndrome, known as PCOS, is the most common disorder, involving hormones, affecting women. It includes a variety of health issues and causes a multitude of symptoms.
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal endocrine disorder affecting women, in which estrogen and progesterone levels are not in balance. The imbalances of PCOS causes the growth of ovarian cysts, enlarged ovaries. It can also take a toll on other areas of the body including the thyroid, adrenal function, insulin levels and the pancreas.
Who Gets PCOS?
Women of childbearing age are susceptible to PCOS. Diagnosis of the disorder is multifaceted. During diagnosis, a doctor will perform a variety of tests and exams to rule out other conditions. A pelvic exam is performed to detect any masses or abnormalities in the reproductive organs. An ultrasound will be used to examine the ovaries and the uterus for unusual appearances. In addition, blood tests can be used to measure hormone levels and exclude other possible conditions.
What are the Signs and Symptoms?
PCOS causes a handful of symptoms, including irregular menstrual periods. The time between periods tends to be longer than normal, resulting in fewer menstrual cycles per year. Some women fail to menstruate for months at a time. The periods women do get are either quite heavy, or similar to spotting.
PCOS causes hormone imbalances, specifically a rise in male hormones. These hormones can produce increased facial and body hair, acne, excessive sweating, and hair loss.
PCOS has a high risk of occurrence with other conditions such as;
- Type two diabetes
- High cholesterol
- Metabolic syndrome
- Liver inflammation
- Sleep apnea
- Mental health issues
- Uterine bleeding
- Endometrial cancer and
- Gestational diabetes or preeclampsia
What Causes PCOS?
Although the precise causes of PCOS are unknown, certain factors may contribute to its development.
Insulin resistance contributes to the pancreas producing more insulin in the body. This excess insulin can increase male hormone production, which may hinder ovulation.
Women with higher incidences of inflammation throughout the body can develop symptoms of PCOS. The inflammation may cause the ovaries to produce more male hormones. Genetics may also play a role in developing PCOS, as women with female relatives suffering from PCOS have higher rates of the syndrome themselves.
The Impact on Fertility
In simple terms, PCOS alters menstrual cycles and hormone production, preventing ovulation, or the release of an egg. Without ovulation, women will be unable to become pregnant. Although ovulation issues are common in those with PCOS, there are many options available to help women become pregnant.
What Treatments Are Available?
While there is currently no cure for PCOS, there are a number of approaches for treating the symptoms of it. Combination birth control pills can be used to decrease male hormone production and regulate the female hormones, estrogen and progestin. Progesterone therapy is an alternative for those who cannot take combination birth control pills. This therapy regulates the menstrual cycle and helps to prevent endometrial cancer. Unlike the birth control pill approach, this therapy will not prevent pregnancy.
A number of medications may be prescribed or suggested by your doctor, Metformin is one such medication commonly used. Although this medication is often used to lower insulin levels in patients with type two diabetes, it may also help to promote regular ovulation and regular menstruation. In patients that are prediabetic, it can slow the progression to full type two diabetes.
For women trying to become pregnant, medications may be necessary to help ovulation. Clomiphene is another medication which is taken orally during the first phases of the menstrual cycle. Metformin is then often used in conjunction with clomiphene to increase the effectiveness.
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) therapy approaches are hormone replacement therapies that can be used when clomiphene and metformin fail. Injectable medications such as Letrozole may later be prescribed if these other medications do not work.
For those looking to avoid medicated assistance with managing PCOS symptoms and becoming pregnant, key lifestyle changes can be made to help conceive.
One of the best natural approaches to improve your chances of becoming pregnant and overcoming PCOS symptoms is with a PCOS-friendly diet. Because of the link between PCOS and diabetes, a proper diet and the maintaining of a healthy body weight can aid in avoiding bigger problems down the road. Since inflammation and high blood glucose levels are two threatening factors with PCOS, foods on the high glycemic index, dairy, bad fats, sugar and artificial sweeteners, processed foods, and soy should be avoided. These foods cause a spike in blood sugar and can affect the amount of insulin released into the blood stream.
A low carbohydrate diet, with a focus on complex-carbs, can help to lower insulin levels. These carbohydrates are high in fiber content and take the body longer to digest, thus leading to a slower increase in blood sugar levels. Planning out meals with whole foods, lots of fresh produce and an increase in fiber can help guide a PCOS-friendly diet. In addition to a healthy diet, frequent exercise and proper supplementation may help further increase fertility levels to help with conception.
In addition to lifestyle changes and medications women can take, there are more aggressive approaches for conceiving. These approaches include in vitro fertilization (IVF) is also available. IVF involves removing an egg or eggs from the patient and fertilizing it with sperm outside of the body. The embryo is then introduced into the woman’s uterus to develop.
Surgery is another treatment option available to help with conception. In women with PCOS, the outer shells of the ovaries are often thickened, thus hindering normal ovulation. Ovarian drilling is one approach which can be successful in promoting ovulation, but only works for a short time. For a laparoscopic ovarian drilling approach, the doctor makes small holes in the surface of the ovaries. This procedure results in a significant decrease in male hormones.
PCOS is a common disorder affecting women, but there are a number of treatment options and lifestyle changes available for women to select to help increase fertility and overcome hindering symptoms.
Women exhibiting possible signs of PCOS should contact their primary care doctor to discuss diagnosis and treatment options.