I Have PCOS. What Does That Mean?
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a set of symptoms caused by a problem with a woman’s hormones. It affects the ovaries—the small organs that store a woman’s eggs. But the syndrome can also affect the rest of the body. PCOS is a very common condition in women of childbearing age. In some cases, it can lead to serious health issues if not treated.
Ovulation happens when a mature egg is released from an ovary. This happens so it can be fertilized by a male sperm. If the egg is not fertilized, it is sent out of the body during your period.
In some cases, a woman doesn’t make enough of the hormones needed to ovulate. When ovulation doesn’t happen, the ovaries can develop many small fluid-filled sacs (cysts). These cysts make hormones called androgens. Androgens are a type of male hormone, but women normally have them in smaller amounts. Women with PCOS often have high levels of androgens. This can cause more problems with a woman’s menstrual cycle. And it can cause many of the symptoms of PCOS.
“Women with PCOS should see their gynecologist on a regular basis and stay up-to-date with well woman exams to ensure that they are getting the right treatment to meet their needs,” says Sara Soto MD, OB/GYN at PIH Health.
Treatment for PCOS is often done with medicine. This can’t cure PCOS, but it helps reduce symptoms and prevent some health problems.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
The symptoms of PCOS may include:
- Missed periods, irregular periods, or very light periods
- Ovaries that are large or have many cysts
- Extra body hair, including the chest, stomach, and back (hirsutism)
- Weight gain, especially around the belly
- Acne or oily skin
- Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
- Small pieces of extra skin on the neck or armpits (skin tags)
- Dark or thick skin patches on the back of the neck, in the armpits, and under the breasts
How is PCOS diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and your symptoms. You will also have a physical exam. This will likely include a pelvic exam. This exam checks the health of your reproductive organs, both inside and outside your body.
Some of the symptoms of PCOS are like those caused by other health problems. Because of this, you may also have tests such as:
- Ultrasound. This test is used to look at the size of the ovaries and see if they have cysts. The test can also look at the thickness of the lining of the uterus (endometrium).
- Blood tests. These look for high levels of androgens and other hormones. Your healthcare provider may also check your blood glucose levels. And you may have your cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked.
How is PCOS treated?
Treatment for PCOS depends on a number of factors. These may include your age, how severe your symptoms are, and your overall health. The type of treatment may also depend on whether you want to become pregnant in the future.
If you do plan to become pregnant, your treatment may include:
- A change in diet and activity.
- Medicines to cause ovulation.
- Birth control pills.
- Diabetes medicine. This is often used to lower insulin resistance in PCOS. It may also help reduce androgen levels, slow hair growth, and help you ovulate more regularly.
- A change in diet and activity.
- Medicines to treat other symptoms. Some medicines can help reduce hair growth or acne.
Do I have PCOS?
Call your healthcare provider if you have missed or irregular periods, extra hair growth, acne, and weight gain. To find a PIH Health Physician near you, visit PIHHealth.org/Find-a-Doctor.
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