Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal disorder affecting 15-20% of child-bearing aged women in the U.S. Although there is a genetic component as to who develops PCOS, much of it is influenced by diet and lifestyle. Women suffering from PCOS will have a disruption of normal female hormones and produce higher than normal levels of the male hormone, testosterone. This imbalance can cause the growth of numerous small cysts filled inside the ovaries.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms usually begin to occur when a female begins puberty. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Obesity or undesirable weight gain
- Absence of, or irregular periods
- Difficulty becoming pregnant-PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women.
- Pregnancy complications
- Skin issues such as acne, psoriasis, skin tags, etc.
- Loss of hair (male pattern baldness) and/or unwanted facial hair
- Mood swings
- Inflammation- which may cause brain fog, joint pain and aches
- Lack of energy and fatigue
Diagnosing PCOS is not simple, it is what physicians refer to as a “diagnosis of exclusion”, meaning that all other issues have been eliminated to the point of arriving at a PCOS diagnosis. Because of this, many women go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed for many years. Therefore, it is extremely important to have a gynecologist who has the desire and experience in diagnosing and treating PCOS so that other conditions can be confidently ruled out.
Being overweight alone can cause severe health problems. Compounded with PCOS, other serious issues can occur including:
- Diabetes or pre-diabetes: Diabetes is serious and adversely affects health more than almost any other disease.
- Cardiovascular disease and heart attack: Carrying around extra weight raises the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, compounded with other PCOS-related problems, women with PCOS have a higher chance of having a heart attack.
- Increasing Insulin resistance will lead to the production of excessive androgens, accumulation of too much body fat, development of acute fatty liver which then can also lead to lipid abnormalities.
- Endometrial cancer: Infrequent periods can result in an abnormal thickening of the endometrium, leaving PCOS sufferers three times more likely to develop endometrial cancer.
- Hypertension: PCOS-related symptoms like obesity and hormonal imbalance will often raise blood pressure.
The Good News
Though PCOS can lead to very serious issues and is a lifelong condition, it can be controlled, especially if treated early. Dietary and lifestyle changes, exercise, and the proper supplements are the primary things that help. You are the best judge of any bodily changes that might be of concern. Being under the care of a physician specializing in PCOS, taking charge of your own health with diet and proper nutrition, you have an excellent chance of correcting troublesome symptoms of PCOS before they become detrimental to your reproductive and overall health.
By James Haley, MD, FACOG, FPMRS
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