PCOS – A Diagnosis So Common It’s Been Called an Epidemic
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrinopathies in women of childbearing age, affecting between 6.5 and 8 percent of women worldwide. Its prevalence is strikingly similar across all cultures from southeastern United States to the Greek Isles of Lesbos and Spain. Here, its diagnosis is so common some experts have referred to it as an epidemic.
PCOS occurs when a woman’s body overproduces sex hormones called androgens. The hormone imbalance prevents the ovaries from breaking open and releasing mature eggs. Fluid-filled sacks accumulate in the ovaries and can create numerous tiny cysts.
PCOS can have significant impact on women’s blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and heart health overall. So, it’s important to be diagnosed, treated properly and cared for by an experienced and sensitive OB-GYN.
How to Know You May Have PCOS
Women affected by PCOS may have irregular menstrual cycles, periods that occur too frequently or infrequently, abnormally heavy or unpredictable periods. Some may have regular cycles at first and subsequently experience irregular menstrual cycles associated with weight gain. Many obese women with PCOS report menstrual cycles that return to normal after relatively small amounts of weight loss.
Here are the most common symptoms.
- Infertility – PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility.
- Obesity – Up to 80% of women with PCOS are obese.
- Hair Growth – This condition, called hirsutism, affects more than 70% of women with PCOS and can cause excess hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen or upper thighs.
- Acne or oily skin – severe acne that occurs after adolescence and does not respond to usual treatments.
- Darkened skin – Patches of thickened, velvety, darkened skin, called acanthosis nigricans.
- Cysts – multiple small cysts on the ovaries can occur.
Some women also experience repeated miscarriages, and gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
PCOS and the Risk of Diabetes Type II
Along with infertility, one of our biggest concerns related to women suffering from PCOS is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance, in which the body’s cells do not respond to the effects of insulin, leads to increased levels of glucose in the blood. This often causes the body to produce more insulin as it tries to move more glucose into cells. Insulin resistance can lead to diabetes mellitus or Type II Diabetes, and any of the symptoms above can be an early indicator.
Cardiovascular disease can be a result of PCOS closely associated with insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes. These are lifelong consequences that should be watched carefully by your women’s health specialists in collaboration with your primary care physician.
Women with PCOS are also likely to develop a condition called endometrial hyperplasia, in which the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) becomes too thick. This condition increases the risks of endometrial cancer.
PCOS causes a wide variety of symptoms and it may be hard to know when to call your doctor. However, early diagnosis and treatment will help prevent the consequences of serious health problems.
Here are a few signs that it’s time to see your doctor right away.
- Passing clots during your period or suffering severe bleeding (soaking through your normal pads or tampons every 2 hours.)
- Normal periods, but you have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for more than 18 months.
- Depression or mood swings, these can be the direct result of hormonal imbalances and the emotional stress triggered by weight gain or skin problems
It’s just one more reason it’s important to make and keep your annual appointment with a caring OB-GYN, like Dr. Judith Cothran of Women’s Health of Chicago. There are a number of treatment options depending on your particular needs, so call for your appointment today and get the personalized care you deserve.