Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, sometimes called Stein-Leventhal Syndrome or PCOS, is a female-specific condition that may cause serious health problems and various cosmetic issues. An approximated 10% of women experience PCOS, making it one of the most common endocrine disorders among females. PCOS is the current leading cause of infertility among women. Because of its high occurrence rate and potentially significant impact on women’s health, it important that we be familiar with the signs and symptoms, risk factors and treatment options for PCOS.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a hormonal condition most frequently experienced by women during their reproductive years, roughly between the ages of 12 and 51. It is estimated that nearly 7 million women have PCOS. Unfortunately, less than 50% of those suffering from the condition are properly diagnosed or receive appropriate care.
The key determining factor of PCOS is hormone balance. Specifically, progesterone and estrogen. These two hormones are integral for female health as they influence several bodily processes including reproduction. An imbalance of progesterone and estrogen instigated by PCOS can cause serious dysfunction including irregular or difficult menstruation, endometriosis, and the formation of painful ovarian cysts.
How Your Hormones Influence PCOS
As mentioned, hormone balance is a critical determinant in the development and continuation of PCOS. Besides progesterone and estrogen, other hormones, specifically insulin and testosterone, may also influence the development and severity of PCOS.
Roughly 50% of those with PCOS have some degree of insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to regulate the concentration of glucose in the bloodstream. One way it does this is by increasing cellular uptake and utilization of glucose. If our cells become less receptive to insulin, the pancreas must increase insulin production to balance the body’s blood glucose values. However, in doing this, estrogen values also increase which can create or exaggerate an imbalance, exacerbating PCOS.
Studies show that testosterone can also play a significant role in the perpetuation or worsening of PCOS. In fact, it has been found that testosterone is a primary factor in some of the most recognizable symptoms of PCOS including acne, weight gain, skin darkening, and changes in hair growth. PCOS causes cysts to form in the ovaries which increases the production of male sex hormones, specifically testosterone. Increased testosterone values can contribute further to hormone imbalance, worsening PCOS. This cycle of dysfunction will continue until the underlying contributors are identified and properly treated.
Signs and Symptoms of PCOS
The significant hormone imbalances caused by PCOS can produce many symptoms. A woman with PCOS may experience some or all the following symptoms at varying degrees of frequency and intensity:
- Weight gain
- Increased hair growth on face and body
- Irregular or absent menstrual periods
- Mood changes
- Thinning hair on scalp
- Mental sluggishness
- Oily skin
- Skin tags
- Elevated blood pressure
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Pelvic or lower abdominal pain
- Sleep apnea
- Cardiac disease
- Dark patches on skin
- Glucose intolerance
- Ovarian cysts
Are You at Risk for PCOS?
There are a variety of predictive elements that may help women recognize PCOS before symptoms become severe. The following groups are more likely to experience PCOS or may already have it:
- Adolescent girls experiencing abnormal menstrual cycles for over two years after their first cycle.
- Adolescent girls developing extreme acne that is unresponsive to standard treatment methods.
- Those with high exposure to BPAs like those found in various plastic products.
- Individuals with a metabolic or endocrine disorder contributing to hormone imbalance.
Although being aware of these high-risk categories may improve the accuracy of diagnoses, the best approach for identifying PCOS is symptom recognition followed by medical testing by your doctor.
Proper Testing for PCOS
If you come to your doctor with concerns of PCOS, there are several tests that will likely be administered. This includes a visual examination looking for symptoms such as acne, darkened skin, hair growth and other visible indicators. The physical examination may also include a pelvic exam to inspect for abnormal growths or cysts, on the reproductive organs. Additional measures such as a transvaginal ultrasound may be employed to uncover any abnormalities in the uterus and ovaries. Further testing may be done to assess hormone values, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, insulin receptivity and glucose tolerance.
Treatment Options for PCOS
Without proper hormone regulation, there is little chance of recovering from this PCOS.
Therefore, effective treatment of PCOS requires a comprehensive approach that regulates the values of specific hormones including estrogen, progesterone, insulin, and testosterone. There are multiple ways to improve hormone balance to help ease PCOS.
Metformin is a medication frequently used to treat type 2 diabetes. Those with PCOS may benefit from taking Metformin as it can improve glucose metabolization, decrease insulin production, and regulate testosterone. However, this medication may interact poorly with individuals who have a thyroid condition. Speak to your doctor before using any new medication.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) may also prove to be highly effective in treating PCOS. This treatment is a natural method of rebalancing hormone values. Studies suggest that bioidentical hormone replacement therapy can also improve various bodily functions and may reduce the risk of multiple hormonal issues including PCOS.
Learn more about BHRT here:
In addition, diet and lifestyle changes should also be implemented. For our patients, we recommend an individualized diet plan complemented with supplements to help balance hormone levels, blood sugar, insulin levels, and inflammation. We also recommend starting a workout routine to increase insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism.
Protecting Yourself from PCOS
PCOS is a common condition that can induce a wide range of symptoms. Recognizing and resolving PCOS requires that we be aware of the symptoms and predictive elements of the condition. After reading this article you should be able to better identify the signs and symptoms of PCOS.
Doctors here at Holtorf Medical Group are specially trained to diagnose and treat PCOS. If you believe you are suffering from PCOS, call (877) 508-1177 to speak with a patient representative and see how we can help you.
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3. Marshall, John C, and Andrea Dunaif. “Should all women with PCOS be treated for insulin resistance?” Fertility and sterility vol. 97,1 (2012): 18-22.
4. March, Wendy A et al. “The prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome in a community sample assessed under contrasting diagnostic criteria.” Human reproduction (Oxford, England) vol. 25,2 (2010): 544-51.