PCOS stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS is caused by a hormonal imbalance in your body and may interfere with normal ovarian function making it difficult to become pregnant. Approximately 5-10% of women of childbearing age have PCOS.
If your physician suspects PCOS, they may order a variety of blood tests, perform a pelvic exam and order an ultrasound. The lab tests that may be ordered will be to assess your hormone levels and check for an imbalance. The ultrasound findings could possibly reveal enlarged ovaries that are filled with small fluid filled cysts. There is no single test that will diagnose PCOS. The physician will take a detailed history, review all of the labs and ultrasound results to formulate a diagnosis.
Insulin resistance is a common issue among women with with PCOS. Insulin resistance refers to the body becoming desensitized to insulin resulting in an imbalance in both insulin and glucose in the body. This imbalance can cause weight gain, obesity and it can be a precursor for diabetes if not properly treated. Insulin resistance may also cause you to have a dark skin discoloration around your neck and groin. This is called acanthosis nigricans.
In PCOS, elevated levels of androgens (like testosterone) are found in the women’s bloodstream. Abnormally high levels of androgens may cause abnormal hair growth on the face, chest, stomach and back. It may also cause acne.
Infertility is also very common in women with PCOS. Due to the imbalance of the previously mentioned hormones, a women with PCOS may have absent or irregular menses. These women may not be ovulating appropriately making it extremely difficult to achieve a pregnancy.
Treatment for PCOS includes both lifestyle modifications, weight control and the addition of medications. Diet adjustments like avoidance of processed, sugary foods and complex carbohydrates along with regular exercise may help you lose weight which in turn may reduce the symptoms of PCOS. If you have irregular menses and you are not trying to conceive, your provider may suggest the use of oral contraceptive pills to help decrease circulating androgens and help regulate your menses. A diabetes medication called metformin, is commonly used to help control your blood sugar and lastly there are ovulation induction medications that may help a person with PCOS have an ovulatory cycle if they are trying to conceive.