Did you know that Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects over 10 million women, and over half don’t even know it? September is PCOS Awareness Month, spotlighting this common hormonal disorder that afflicts countless women who are of reproductive age. If you experience sparse menstrual periods, periods that are prolonged, or your body produces excessive male hormone (androgen) levels, then you may have this disorder.
In women struggling with PCOS, your ovaries may have follicles filled with fluid and don’t release your eggs. When it comes to what leads to this disorder, the exact cause is actually not known. But diagnosing it early, and treating it, along with losing weight, will help lower long term complications that often arise, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Conversely, PCOS symptoms are usually more severe the more overweight you are.
What to Look For
PCOS can begin when you first get your menstrual cycle during puberty, but it can also arise if you have gained a large amount of weight. You will likely be diagnosed with PCOS if you display at least two of the following indicators:
-You have irregular periods: This could manifest as infrequent cycles or prolonged cycles, or cycles that are irregular. You could have only a handful of periods in a given year, which might include extremely heavy periods with long absences of periods in between.
-You have excess androgen production: These male hormones can manifest in your body as excessive facial and body hair, sometimes having severe acne or even male-pattern baldness – a thinning of the hair and balding that typically happens in adult males where the hairline recedes and/or hair is lost on the top and front of the head.
-You have polycystic ovaries: Fluid-filled follicles might enlarge your ovaries and surround your eggs, interfering with proper ovarian function.
What Causes PCOS?
While doctors don’t yet know exactly what causes PCOS, there are some common factors to be aware of. Along with excess androgen hormone production and obesity, heredity can also play a part. So can producing too much insulin, a pancreatic hormone that lets your cells use sugar and is the number one energy supplier in your body. But, if your body produces too much insulin, that can increase the androgen levels, interfering with your ovulation. If your cells become resistant to the insulin, then your blood sugar levels can rise and your body might produce more insulin. Also, if your body has low-grade inflammation going on, that can make your ovaries create more androgens that can also damage your heart and blood vessels.
Women with PCOS can suffer from the following:
Number one is infertility. Then there is gestational diabetes and high blood pressure from pregnancy, along with miscarriage or giving birth prematurely. Your liver can also become inflamed (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) from fat build-up, and metabolic syndrome — which is actually several symptoms together, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels that can lead to heart disease. Type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and sleep apnea are also on the list, along with depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
Our Fertility Center team is dedicated to raising awareness of PCOS around the world to help you seek help with your symptoms. You shouldn’t ignore irregular periods, especially if you have pain in the pelvis. Even though there is currently no cure for this disorder, there are treatments that can help you!
-Weight loss – even just losing 5% of your body weight can help!
-Medications to regulate your menstrual cycle – pills, patches or vaginal ring.
-Medications to stimulate your ovaries, lower insulin levels, lessen hair growth like facial growth.
-Progestin therapy can regulate your periods and fight off endometrial cancer.
Losing weight, limiting carbs and exercising more are all things you can do at home. Make sure you get enough healthy sleep and practice stress management techniques like meditation or yoga which are beneficial to your mental and physical health.
If you would like to be seen and checked for PCOS, we invite you to call our Idaho Fertility Center at 208-529-2019 in Idaho Falls. Our board-certified Reproductive Endocrinologists are here to help you with your reproductive health and goals. You can find the relief you need for your PCOS symptoms.