Health & Fitness

Doc Talk: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, what is it and how to treat it

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects 5 to 10 percent of females and warrants a deeper look.

Since it is not generally painful and has a variety of symptoms that could be linked with other medical issues, it may not be readily identifiable. For women suffering from irregular menstruation cycles and infertility, getting regular check-ups could help prevent this disorder.

PCOS is a condition related to an imbalance in hormone production. When the imbalance occurs, the ovaries do not ovulate correctly, which can lead to a number of issues such as difficulty getting pregnant and, over a long period of time, create a risk for uterine cancer.

Common signs that a woman may be suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome include infertility, infrequent periods or abnormal bleeding, increased growth of hair on the face, chest, belly and other areas (due to an increase in male hormones called androgens), cysts on the ovaries, acne, oily skin or dandruff, and weight gain or obesity.

Other health concerns are linked to the disorder including heart disease, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure. Some women experience anxiety or depression.

The good news is that PCOS is very treatable. The first step is to contact your primary care physician or OB/GYN. Both can initiate an evaluation and work-up. Your physician will ask a thorough history and try to rule out any other potential causes for the symptoms, such as hormone-secreting tumors or thyroid disorders, for example. Your physician will likely run blood tests and give you a physical exam.

We always recommend focusing on weight loss. Statistics show that about 80 percent of women with PCOS are overweight or obese. Losing weight alone can often significantly improve symptoms, particularly as related to irregular bleeding and infertility.

If a woman does not desire pregnancy, then regulating her menstrual cycle is important, usually with hormones such as a birth control pill. Sometimes hormones have the added benefit of helping with abnormal hair growth.

If a woman is trying to get pregnant, she may need to take medications that cause her to ovulate each month. If abnormal hair growth continues to be a concern, there are medications as well as effective hair-removal treatments that can be used.

Lastly, we need to address other health issues linked to PCOS such as pre-diabetes, elevated cholesterol, sleep apnea and other disorders often related to being overweight.

Women need to be aware of their bodies, and if there is a concern about any of these symptoms, discuss it with their primary-care physician. Most women respond well to treatment; the key is to take care of it early before related symptoms turn into serious health problems.