What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), also known as Stein-Leventhal syndrome is a condition characterized by an imbalance of hormones in women which can affect menstrual periods and ovulation. Women are often very embarrassed and upset by some of the symptoms associated with this condition such as excessive hair growth, acne, obesity and the growth of small cysts on the ovaries. It is also one of the leading causes of infertility. Because of these distressing symptoms, women may also experience feelings of depression and anxiety.
PCOS affects about one in ten women of childbearing age. It is a very common problem amongst young women and teenage girls, sometimes even affecting girls as young as 11 years of age. If not treated early, serious health complications such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease can develop.
Common symptoms and signs that may develop include:
- Abnormal, irregular or absent menstrual periods
- Excess androgen levels such as increased facial and body hair (hirsutism), male-pattern baldness (alopecia), and deepening of the voice
- Large ovaries with multiple cysts
- Obesity or weight gain
- Small, excess growths of skin found on the neck or in the armpits
- High blood pressure or high cholesterol levels
What Causes Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
The exact cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome is not known. In polycystic ovarian syndrome, higher-than-normal levels of male hormones, androgens and low levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) are produced by the body. As a result, ovulation is less frequent and contributes to abnormal menstrual cycles. Excess insulin produced in the body may also increase androgen levels which impacts negatively on ovulation. Genetic factors may also contribute to the development of polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Diagnosing Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
The diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome is based on your symptoms, a pelvic examination and a review of your medical history to rule out any other disorders. Blood tests such as a pregnancy test, prolactin levels and thyroid function tests may be performed. An ultrasound, abdominal MRI or biopsy of the ovary may also be ordered.
Help for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Treatment options for polycystic ovarian syndrome involves managing and controlling symptoms such as abnormal menstrual periods, excess hair growth (hirsutism), infertility, acne or obesity. Cardiovascular symptoms such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes may also develop from this condition but early diagnosis and treatment can prevent more serious complications.
Birth control pills can help to regulate menstrual periods while fertility drugs such as clomiphene citrate or flutamide may be prescribed to get pregnant. Women who do not respond to fertility drugs may opt for a surgical procedure known as ovarian drilling (laparopscopy) to bring about ovulation. If you are overweight, it is important to reduce insulin levels to stimulate ovulation and improve fertility – a weight loss program which combines a healthy eating plan and exercise is recommended.
For acne symptoms, topical creams or oral medications such as estrogen-progestin hormone pills may be used to treat the skin. To treat or remove unwanted hair growth, a variety of hair removal methods such as waxing, tweezing, depilatories, electrolysis or laser hair removal are available.
Natural and holistic treatments have also proven to promote female reproductive health and support hormonal balance. For centuries the Chinese herb, Dong Quai has been used as a nourishing blood tonic and to help maintain normal levels of estrogen and progesterone throughout the menstrual cycle.
More Information on Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Tips for polycystic ovarian syndrome
Coping with polycystic ovarian syndrome can be difficult but there are certain things that you can do to make this condition more manageable. Follow these helpful tips:
- Exercise regularly to encourage weight loss and reduce blood sugar levels – this will also help to regulate insulin levels
- Follow a high fiber carbohydrate diet that includes wholegrain cereal and bread, whole-wheat pasta, couscous, some fruits and vegetables, raisins, or brown rice
- Avoid processed and refined foods, caffeinated beverages and sugary foods such as candy, soda, cookies, cake, ice-cream or doughnuts
- Educate yourself as much as possible about the condition by speaking to your doctor and obtaining additional information from the internet
- Have regular waxing done to eliminate excess hair
- Learn to relax by practicing deep breathing exercises, meditating or doing yoga
- Stay positive and be good to yourself by having a massage, changing your hairstyle, or spending an evening with good friends