Question

What is polycystic ovary syndrome and how do I know if I have it? Is it life threatening?

Answer

The hormone imbalance results from excess amount of androgens or testosterone, making it more difficult for the body to develop an egg or release the egg during ovulation. This disrupts the overall hormone production in the ovaries and may cause small cysts (fluid filled sacs) to form within the ovary. You can read more about ovarian cysts in one of our previous Since You Asked columns!

Because androgens and testosterone are hormones associated with male sex organs and reproduction, PCOS can cause symptoms such as hirsutism (excessive hair growth on the face or chin), male pattern-baldness, and infrequent or irregular menstrual cycles. Other symptoms of PCOS can include weight gain, excessive acne, and pregnancy-related problems such as difficulty getting pregnant or infertility.

If you are experiencing any of combination of these symptoms, as well as lower abdominal pain, then you may have PCOS. The best way to know for sure is having your doctor perform a series of tests which may include a pelvic exam, blood tests to examine your hormone levels, and a transvaginal ultrasound to get a closer look at your ovaries themselves.

Keep in mind that every case of PCOS is different, so you may experience different symptoms than others with the disorder. For example, not everyone who has PCOS develops cysts on or within their ovaries.

While PCOS itself is not life threatening, those who have it are at higher risk for other more serious conditions such as Type II diabetes, cardiovascular problems, endometrial cancer, liver inflammation, and a few others. Although there is no cure for PCOS, there are a number of ways you can reduce the risk of these more serious conditions, as well as relieve symptoms, especially pain associated with cysts.

If you have PCOS, your doctor may prescribe you an oral contraceptive to regulate your menstrual cycle and decrease androgens. Other treatment methods could include consuming a high-fiber carbohydrate diet, taking anti-androgen medicines, and exercising regularly to help reduce your cholesterol.

For more information about polycystic ovary syndrome and treatments, take a look at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Office on Women’s Health.


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