What is polycystic ovary syndrome?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a complex condition that causes both ovaries to become enlarged by fluid-filled cysts. It is associated with a hormonal imbalance that can be detected in a blood test. A woman with this condition rarely ovulates and may be much less fertile than normal. The condition also causes hormonal disturbances.
Who is at risk for polycystic ovary syndrome? What are the PCOS symptoms?
The underlying cause of polycystic ovary syndrome is unknown, though it seems to run in families. Researchers are trying find out whether there is a gene for PCOS.
Women with PCOS have irregular periods, which may affect fertility. They also experience other hormonal changes that may lead to weight gain, the appearance of facial hair and acne. The main symptoms are:
- Absent or infrequent periods. Periods can be as frequent as every five to six weeks, but might only occur once or twice a year, if at all;
- Infertility – infrequent or absent periods are linked with rare ovulation;
- Increased facial and body hair, usually found under the chin, on the upper lip, on the forearms, lower legs and abdomen;
- Greasy skin and acne, usually only on the face;
- Overweight or obesity;
- Miscarriage, sometimes recurrent.
Even without treatment, polycystic ovary syndrome usually settles down at menopause.
Treatment for PCOS symptoms
Your family doctor will be able to suggest various drug treatments available. These aim to improve several aspects of polycystic ovary syndrome:
- Fertility can be improved by stimulating ovulation;
- Hormone imbalances can be corrected;
- Excess hairiness can be reduced.
Your doctor will probably suggest that you lose weight, which will help both the symptoms and hormonal abnormalities; and you may be referred to a specialist for laser or diathermy (heat) treatment to the surface of the ovary.
Complications of PCOS
Excess estrogen inhibits ovulation and sometimes overstimulates the lining of the womb so that it becomes abnormally thick. This is associated with a small increased risk of developing cancerous changes.
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome may develop an abnormal resistance to the effect of insulin in controlling their blood sugar levels. This puts them at risk of later developing non-insulin dependent diabetes and cardiovascular disease.