Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a metabolic/hormonal disorder that results in menstrual irregularities, high testosterone, and poorly functioning insulin. It affects 5-10% of women of childbearing age.
Even though PCOS is fairly common, it is often misdiagnosed. Women may experience PCOS symptoms for years before discovering what’s causing their problems.
At Women’s Healthcare of Princeton in Princeton, New Jersey, our all-female team of women’s health specialists has extensive experience identifying PCOS. We understand that diagnosing PCOS or any woman’s health condition is the first step toward getting the right treatment and feeling better.
Here is some important information about PCOS, its diagnosis, and its treatment.
Causes of PCOS
Scientists don’t know exactly why women develop PCOS. However, it is connected to levels of certain hormones, such as androgens. Elevated levels of androgens, which are sometimes referred to as male hormones, can interfere with ovulation and pregnancy.
PCOS also has a link to metabolism, which is the way your body uses energy in food. PCOS risk is higher in women who are obese.
PCOS appears to have a genetic component, because women whose female relatives have the condition have a higher likelihood of developing it than those without a family history.
Signs and symptoms of PCOS
PCOS affects women in different ways. However, many women with PCOS have one or more of the following:
- Acne on your face, back, or chest
- Darkening of skin on your neck, groin, or under your breasts
- Excess hair on your face, chin, chest, fingers, toes, or other places where men typically have hair
- Excess weight gain and difficulty losing weight
- Fatigue and low energy
- Flaps of skin, known as skin tags, on your neck or in your armpit area
- High blood glucose or insulin levels
- Missed periods (fewer than eight total per year), prolonged periods, and/or heavy menstrual bleeding
- Pelvic pain
- Thinning hair or baldness
- Trouble getting pregnant
- Trouble sleeping
PCOS and weight
PCOS can make it very hard to lose weight once you’ve gained it. This occurs because the insulin resistance that happens with PCOS prevents your body from processing sugar properly.
Women with PCOS have an elevated risk of developing cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, but a healthy diet and exercise can help you manage your weight and lower diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk.
PCOS can be difficult to diagnose because some of its symptoms have a variety of potential causes. For example, heavy menstrual bleeding could be caused by a range of conditions, such as uterine fibroids, polyps, bleeding disorders, certain medications, or pelvic inflammatory disease, in addition to PCOS.
Here at Women’s Healthcare of Princeton, our providers take the following into account during the diagnosis process for PCOS:
- Your symptom history, including information on the timing and severity of various symptoms
- Blood test results, including levels of testosterone, glucose, and cholesterol
- Results from ovary ultrasounds. Women with PCOS may show a line of ovarian cysts that have a “string-of-pearl” appearance along the edge of their ovaries.
There is no cure for PCOS. However, a variety of treatments can provide relief.
Treatment involves achieving hormonal balance, improving metabolism with exercise and diet, and combating insulin resistance. Medications often used include birth control pills, progesterone pills, spironolactone (a blood pressure medication), clomid (an ovulation-stimulating medication), and metformin (a medication used to treat Type 2 diabetes).
Although PCOS can interfere with pregnancy, it’s one of the most treatable causes of female infertility. Because PCOS can cause irregular menstrual cycles, you may have trouble knowing when you’re ovulating, which can make it harder for you to get pregnant. But close monitoring and, in some cases, medication, can help bring about pregnancy.
It’s important to receive treatment for PCOS. Some patients go months without periods. As nice as that may sound, it could mean you have too much estrogen (and not enough progesterone for balance), which can result in abnormal cells developing in your uterine lining. These cells could develop into uterine cancer, sometimes at a young age.
Get help for your PCOS symptoms
If you think you may have PCOS, be sure to talk to us. Early diagnosis and treatment can help protect your metabolic and gynecological health.
To set up a consultation with one of our caring providers, please call our clinic in Princeton, New Jersey, at 609-246-5541 or schedule an appointment using our online booking tool.