5 Things You Need To Know About Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome, often referred to as PCOS, is a common but underdiagnosed hormonal disorder in women. Complex changes in a woman’s hypothalamus and pituitary glands lead to an inbalance of hormones that can affect their ability to conceive, manage weight, and more. Thankfully, there are ways to manage PCOS. Here’s what you need to know.

1. PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility

Polycystic ovary syndrome affects 5-10% of women worldwide. That means up to one out of every ten women suffer from this condition. This number is also only an estimate—because this condition shares symptoms with other disorders, it’s often overlooked in early stages.

Unfortunately, PCOS can lead to difficulties getting pregnant and other challenges if undiagnosed.

PCOS occurs when a woman’s body overproduces androgens, a sex hormone. This imbalance prevents fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries from opening and releasing mature eggs during ovulation. Because of this, the ovaries also become enlarged and covered with pearl-sized, fluid-filled cysts.

2. Women often wait for two years and visit multiple doctors to get a diagnosis

Penn Medicine notes that large gaps in healthcare education unfortunately leads to oversights in diagnosis. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers surveyed 1,385 women diagnosed with PCOS.

They found that one-third of women waited for more than two years and nearly half saw three or more health professionals before finally receiving a diagnosis.

3. Understanding common PCOS symptoms can lead to a faster diagnosis

While it is a difficult condition to diagnose, many women don’t get the support they need during early stages of the condition. There are often signs that a person is suffering from PCOS, however.

Common PCOS symptoms that can help a healthcare professional reach a diagnosis include:

  • Irregular periods
  • Weight gain
  • Excess hair on the face and body
  • Thinning hair on the head
  • Acne
  • Dark patches of skin
  • Skin tags
  • Oily or dry skin
  • Pelvic pain
  • Anxiety and depression

In an article in The Atlantic, John Nestler, the chair of the department of internal medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, notes that:

“If a woman has fewer than eight menstrual periods a year on a chronic basis, she probably has a 50 to 80 percent chance of having polycystic ovary syndrome based on that single observation. But if she has infrequent menstruation and she has elevated levels of androgens such as testosterone in the blood, than she has a greater than 90 percent chance of having the condition.”

4. It’s not just an infertility issue

It’s important to get an early diagnosis, even before a woman may want to have children, because there are other health risks associated with undiagnosed PCOS.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that untreated PCOS is linked to higher rates of:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Unhealthy cholesterol issues
  • Sleep apnea
  • Weight issues
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Endometrial cancer

5. Once diagnosed, there are PCOS treatments that work

PCOS has no single cure, but with a coordinated approach, it is possible to treat its symptoms and manage risk factors for other health concerns.

For many, managing weight through diet and exercise can help relieve symptoms. However, PCOS does make it more difficult to lose weight. Laser therapy can help treat hair and skin issues.

To return to a more normal menstruation cycle, low doses of birth control can balance hormonal levels and lessen the effects from irregular periods. It can also help improve acne and hair issues.

Other PCOS medications include anti-androgen medicines that block the effects of androgens and reduce hair and acne (only to be used by those not attempting pregnancy) and metformin.

Metformin is a type 2 diabetes medication that can lower blood sugar, insulin, and androgen levels in the body. While not FDA-approved for the specific treatment of PCOS yet, recent research shows that it can help restart ovulation, lower body mass, and improve cholesterol levels.

How can I get pregnant with PCOS?

It is possible to get pregnant with PCOS. At the Fertility Institute of New Orleans, we’ve helped many women conceive with this condition. Fertility treatments for PCOS include:

  • Taking ovulation-inducing drugs, such as those used in IVF treatments
  • Administering insulin-reducing drugs like metformin, both to make ovulatory medicines more effective and to aid in weight loss
  • Using IVF treatments, as needed, for embryo implantation

A 2017 study also showed that vitamin D deficiency can make it more difficult for women with PCOS to conceive. Therefore, monitoring all nutrition levels, ensuring a healthy diet, and adding supplements, when warranted, is an important part of any PCOS management approach.

If you believe that polycystic ovary syndrome is making it difficult for you to conceive, you do have options. Contact one of our fertility clinics in Mandeville, Metairie, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans today for more information about our PCOS treatment approach.