PCOS: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
is a condition that causes an imbalance in a woman’s hormone levels.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a genetic, hormone, metabolic, and reproductive disorder that affects women. It is one of the leading causes of female infertility.
PCOS can lead to lifelong complications and other serious conditions including severe anxiety and depression, obesity, endometrial cancer, type 2 diabetes, liver disease and cardiovascular disease.
If Your Menstrual Cycle Is Irregular, You Have PCOS
There are so many causes of an irregular cycle, and PCOS is only one of them. A normal cycle is anywhere from 21 to 35 days. Outside of that, breastfeeding, extreme dieting or over-exercising, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, and thyroid disorders are potential causes for a cycle that’s out of whack. Stress too can be a big factor.
What are the causes of PCOS?
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, however, there is evidence that the following play a role:
- Higher levels of male hormones (aka androgens)
- Insulin resistance
- Low-grade inflammation
PCOS only affects overweight women
It’s true that many women with PCOS are overweight or obese, however, PCOS does affect women with healthy or low BMIs. This myth is one of the reasons that PCOS can easily be misdiagnosed.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
The most common symptoms include:
- Irregular periods/abnormal menstruation
- Abnormal hair growth
- Darkening of the skin
- Cysts on the ovaries
- Skin tags
- Thinning hair
Important to note that it is possible to have PCOS and not have any symptoms.
You can get rid of PCOS by losing weight
While diet, exercise, and weight loss will not resolve PCOS, it may help alleviate the symptoms that come along with the condition. It may help lower blood sugar levels, improve how your body uses insulin, and help regulate your hormones which can positively impact ovulation.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
In most cases, your healthcare provider can diagnose PCOS after an examination. They may order blood tests or perform an ultrasound to help with diagnosis.
Typically, you are diagnosed with PCOS if you have at least two of the following:
- Irregular or missed periods
- Signs of excess androgen such as acne, excessive hair growth, or a blood test confirming excess androgen levels
- Cysts on one or both ovaries
If you have PCOS, you have polycystic ovaries
While the name may imply that, it’s actually a misnomer. Many women have cysts but don’t have PCOS and, likewise, women may not have cysts but still have PCOS.
How is PCOS treated?
Treatments can include medications, lifestyle changes or a combination of both. These options vary based on whether you are trying to get pregnant or not.
If you are not trying to get pregnant, treatment options include:
- Hormonal birth control
- Insulin-sensitizing medicine
- Medications to block androgens
- Lifestyle changes
If you are trying to get pregnant, treatment options include:
- Drugs to induce ovulation (i.e. letrozole)
- In vitro fertilization (IVF)
If you’re not looking to get pregnant, you don’t have to worry about PCOS
While PCOS can affect a woman’s fertility, it can have an impact on other areas of her health as well. PCOS has been linked to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, poor cholesterol levels, sleep apnea, depression, and anxiety.
How does PCOS impact fertility?
- PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility.
- Decreased frequency or lack of ovulation can result in not being able to conceive.
You can’t get pregnant if you have PCOS
Even though PCOS can interfere with ovulation making getting pregnant more difficult, it is not impossible to conceive. By taking the right steps to control the symptoms and working with a specialist, you can increase your odds of getting pregnant both naturally or after fertility treatments.
Can I get pregnant if I have PCOS?
You’ll know for sure if you have PCOS
PCOS is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions. The primary reason for this is that symptoms are so common and can be attributed to other causes like stress. Many women also do not experience any symptoms further increasing misdiagnosis.
What are fertility options with PCOS?
Getting pregnant with PCOS involves some of the same steps that women without PCOS should take for a healthy pregnancy
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat healthy foods high in vitamins and minerals
- Balance blood sugar levels
- Medications such as metformin, clomid, or letrozole
- Treatments such as IVF
Every woman with PCOS should go on the birth control pill
While birth control is a common way to treat irregularities in a woman’s period, it isn’t the only solution. Treatment for PCOS will depend on your current goals and whether you are actively trying to get pregnant. There are many options for treatment outside of the birth control pill.
Could complications arise during pregnancy with PCOS?
Some studies show that women with PCOS are 3X more likely to have a miscarriage compared to women who do not have PCOS.
Other complications more likely to develop in women with PCOS are preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, having a larger baby, and premature delivery.
However, all of these conditions are carefully monitored during the pregnancy and can be treated in real time.
PCOS goes away with pregnancy
It is true that sometimes PCOS symptoms can be milder during pregnancy but the condition does not have a cure. Since PCOS can pose a risk to pregnant women, it is common for women to be heavily monitored throughout their pregnancy
Is PCOS treatment covered by insurance?
Most health insurance policies will cover diagnosis and treatment of preexisting conditions, including PCOS.
While many insurance companies do not cover fertility treatment, they can cover treatment for addressing symptoms of PCOS which could improve the chances of conception.
PCOS is a rare condition
PCOS affects between 5-10% of women of childbearing age in the US. It is one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders among women in this age group. In addition, less than 50% of all women with PCOS are diagnosed correctly, meaning many are potentially unaware of their condition.
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