Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that affects up to 1 in 5 women of childbearing age. The two main hormones that are affected are insulin and testosterone.
The cause of PCOS is unknown but it is thought that several factors, including genetics, could play a role; women with PCOS are more likely to have a mother or sister with PCOS.
A main underlying problem is a hormonal imbalance. In women with PCOS, the ovaries make more androgens than normal. High levels of these hormones affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation.
Insulin, the hormone controlling the change of sugar, starches and other food into energy for the body to use or store, is also linked. Many women with PCOS have too much insulin in their blood because their body does not respond to the normal amount (insulin resistance). The excess insulin has a direct effect on the way the ovary works and this results in irregular ovulation, irregular periods and appears to increase production of androgen.
An ultrasound scan can show many small cysts in one or both ovaries. They are usually less than 8mm in diameter and may contain eggs. These small cysts rarely grow large, and do not need to be removed by surgery. They are less obvious in women who have been using an oral contraceptive and become more obvious after weight gain.
If these symptoms sound familiar to you, please consider ringing our friendly administration staff to arrange an appointment, so a specialist can discuss your concerns with you and arrange testing if necessary.
The symptoms of PCOS can vary from woman to woman, but may include:
There is no specific test for PCOS, but usually a doctor will complete a physical examination and blood tests to look for high cholesterol, blood sugar levels (insulin resistance) and for changes in LH (luteinising hormone) or FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). An ultrasound will also be performed to determine the presence of ovarian cysts or enlarged ovaries and also to examine the reproductive organs for any irregularities.
Because there is no cure for PCOS, treatment can either focus on treating the symptoms, or treating the cause of the symptoms.
Many women with PCOS are overweight or obese, which can cause health problems. PCOS can be managed by eating a healthy diet: limiting processed foods and food with added sugars, and exercising regularly to keep weight at a healthy level. This will help to lower blood glucose levels. Even a 10% loss in body weight can restore a normal period and regulate the menstrual cycle.
The oral contraceptive can help regulate menstrual periods and reduce menstrual cramps by normalising hormones associated with the menstrual cycle and ovulation. It also helps to reduce the testosterone level, which reduces symptoms such as hairiness and acne.
Excessive facial and/or body hair, scalp hair loss, and increased acne can be very distressing. There are many options available to improve these symptoms by targeting them directly, such as waxing, hair creams, and topical acne treatments. Ask your doctor for advice if you would like to know more.