Recognizing  PCOS Symptoms

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects many girls/women of childbearing age. Though the exact cause of the disorder has not been identified, early diagnosis is possible as the first signs and symptoms of PCOS may develop during puberty, or shortly after the time of the first menstrual period. However, it can develop later in life as well, for example in conjunction with substantial weight gain.

PCOS symptoms

As with many disorders that can have an effect on fertility, the symptoms of PCOS may vary from person to person. Doctors look to identify at least two classic signs or symptoms in order to diagnose a patient with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Examples of these include:

  • Irregular periods are common amongst those with PCOS. However, this irregularity may be expressed in different forms for different patients. For some women, periods are infrequent and might number only 8 or 9 per year instead of the usual once per month. For others, periods are prolonged, lasting more than a week and with a flow that is abnormally heavy. For others, irregularity is represented by the time between periods, which might range from the standard 28 days to 35 or more days, to upwards of many months. If you suspect PCOS based on these findings, it is a good idea to keep track of your periods.
  • For some women, irregular periods are accompanied by polycystic ovaries. A polycystic ovary is usually enlarged and demonstrates multiple follicles that contain the eggs around its periphery.  These follicles, which are small collections of fluid, do not grow and mature properly with this syndrome, thus preventing the eggs from being released regularly. As such, achieving pregnancy becomes difficult or impossible.
  • An excessive amount of male hormones or androgens can be present in women with PCOS. The symptoms of disproportionate male hormones include excess facial and central body hair, acne, and in more advanced cases, male pattern baldness as well.

An interesting correlation that doctors have discovered is that many, if not all, of these symptoms, will likely be more severe in women who are obese since the excess fat cells also produce excess male hormones themselves

Complications of PCOS

In addition to its negative impact on fertility, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome may cause a number of health issues that can be somewhat concerning as well.

Infertility leads the list of complications, but others include:

  • A higher chance of miscarriage
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Fatty liver inflammation
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Metabolic syndrome

If left unchecked for many months, and often in conjunction with obesity, PCOS may lead to pre-cancerous, or even cancerous changes in the uterine lining; i.e. endometrial hyperplasia or endometrial cancer.

Diagnosis and treatment

If you suspect you may be dealing with this disorder because you have signs or symptoms that are consistent with PCOS, you should see a doctor who can confirm the diagnosis. This may require more than one appointment and will likely involve a pelvic exam, blood tests, an ultrasound, and a complete review of your health history.

To assist PCOS patients who wish to conceive, doctors will likely first suggest treatments that address the symptoms of the disorder. These might include combination birth control pills (with estrogen and progestin) to regular the menstrual cycle, or insulin-sensitizing therapies such as metformin when insulin resistance is diagnosed. Medications to assist in ovulation may also be recommended, including clomiphene or letrozole. Other medications might be offered to help slow hair growth as well.

In addition, lifestyle changes can help reduce the severity of PCOS symptoms. Weight loss – even at a rate of 5% to 10% of your total body weight – can reduce androgen and insulin levels and restore ovulation. Daily exercise can also be very beneficial by lowering blood sugar levels and helping you achieve a healthy metabolic balance. If you are having trouble getting pregnant and believe you may have PCOS, the doctors at Advanced Reproductive Medicine can help you obtain a diagnosis and set you on your way to optimal reproductive health with the goal of assisting you in starting a family. For more information or schedule a consultation, call us at 732-339-9300.

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