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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age that causes infertility and other serious health repercussions. In fact, PCOS is believed to be the most common reason for menstrual irregularities in women of reproductive age. (scroll down for video)

polycystic ovarian syndromeWomen with PCOS usually have a normal uterus and fallopian tubes, but their ovaries sometimes contain many small follicles or cysts, visible in ultrasound images. Each month, new follicles develop and shrink into cysts. This type of cyst is not an indication of ovarian cancer. However, the cysts produce androgens, hormones that lead to an imbalance in the woman's entire system. This imbalance affects her ability to conceive and can lead to conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The earlier a young woman is diagnosed and begins managing PCOS, the less likely is long-term complications of infertility, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Keeping family physicians and gynecologists informed about symptoms and following treatment plans can help the patient manage this condition.

PCOS Symptoms
Not all women with PCOS have the same symptoms. Some may notice these outward signs first:

  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • Acne
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Male pattern baldness or thinning hair on the scalp
  • Hair growth on the face, back, or chest (hirsutism)

Less visible symptoms may include:

  • High blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
  • High cholesterol

PCOS may be hereditary. Women with family members with PCOS or Type II diabetes are considered at higher risk. Women who do not have a menstrual period for more than six of any 12 months should see a physician, as PCOS is a possible cause.

How is PCOS treated?
PCOS sufferers cannot be cured, but their symptoms – including infertility – can be treated. A key to reducing the symptoms of PCOS is the lowering of insulin levels. This can often be accomplished with medications.

Treatment can improve the chances of conception and reduce risks of diabetes or heart disease. Making lifestyle changes, especially nutritional and exercise habits, is a crucial part of treatment. Any diet and physical activity that improves overall health will also considerably affect a woman's hormone levels and reduce her PCOS symptoms.

Managing Hyperinsulinemia
Some PCOS patients develop high levels of fasting blood insulin, called hyperinsulinemia, which is determined through blood tests. If a patient does not respond to initial treatment with fertility medications or develops resulting complications, her physician may prescribe drugs also used to treat adult onset diabetes. Daily doses of these medications can reverse hormonal abnormalities and eventually return normal menstrual and ovulatory cycles.

Dr Kristen Wright (featured in the above video) is a fertility doctor in New Hampshire. She provides fertility screening and infertility treatment at the IVF New England fertility clinics in Bedford and Portsmouth, New Hampshire (also serving patients from southern Maine). Dr Wright also provides infertility consultations at the IVF New England fertility clinic at Lowell General Hospital Outpatient Services in North Chelmsford, Massachusetts.

This information is provided for general education purposes and is not intended to take the place of a discussion with your physician. If you have questions about any aspect of your health, you are advised to speak with your physician.