What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome? PCOS has been around as long as there have been infertile women, in fact it is believed that it affects 5 to 10% of women regardless of ethnicity, and that it is the leading cause of infertility. PCOS which is also known as polycystic ovaries; sclerocystic ovarian disease; polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD); Stein-Leventhal Syndrome has been clinically known since the mid '80's and currently has specialists battling for control over it.
How does PCOS really work and what are the symptoms of it? First off, scientists have narrowed down that PCOS stems from the pancreas not doing its job. What happens is the pancreas releases too much insulin causing glucose to decrease, this makes the brain think that it isn't receiving enough glucose to begin with, which makes the person eat more, and in turn screws up the insulin/glucose ratio even farther. Usually, the liver normally would kick in and release stored glucose, but since the elevated insulin rate messes that up, it cannot react when necessary. Since the liver cannot deal with the levels of insulin properly the insulin remains in the blood stream and causes the body to store up fat and delay the release of already stored up fat. Additionally, the raised insulin levels trigger a raise in testosterone, which may prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg each month, causing infertility. Also, high testosterone levels in women also cause acne, male-pattern baldness, and excess hair growth. Normal symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- abnormal, irregular, heavy or scanty menstruation (oligomenorrhea)
- absent periods (amenorrhea)
- acanthosis nigricans (brown skin patches, often found on the nape of the neck)
- alopecia (male-pattern hair loss)
- decreased breast size
- decreased sex drive
- enlarged ovaries
- enlarged uterus
- excess "male" hormones, such as androgens, DHEAS, or testosterone
- exhaustion and/or lack of mental alertness
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol levels
- hirsutism (excess facial and/or body hair)
- ovarian cysts
- skin tags
- All of these symptoms will worsen with weight gain and or age.
So you think you might have it, now what? Unfortunately, PCOS is not something doctors can treat, in fact, all that doctors can do is stabilize a woman's condition, and make it easier for her to live with it. Look for either a OB/GYN who specializes in endocrinology especially if trying to get pregnant, or an endocrinologist who specializes in women's health. I personally went to a OB/GYN who specializes in endocrinology, so what he did was a whole series of questions about my menstrual regularity, and then a battery of blood tests and an ultrasound. The ultrasound is to check for ovarian cysts of course some women have PCOS and no cysts, and others have cysts with no PCOS, this is where the blood work comes in. The tests that are normally done include, a Glucose Tolerance Test where you must fast for 10 to 12 hours before the test so that they can test your body's ability to handle a sudden drop in blood sugar. A test to check Cholesterol Levels, including triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol. A test on Testosterone, LH, FSH, and androstenedione levels. Some doctors may require more tests and/or more detailed tests.
What steps should be taken if diagnosed with PCOS? The first step to dealing with it is, if you are over weight, lose the weight. This is difficult to do, but the symptoms of PCOS are lowered and sometimes even disappear when weight is lost. The best way to do this would be to lower carbohydrate intake levels, and increase exercise. Even when a more normal weight is achieved, carbohydrates should still be restricted since these lead to insulin problems. Women with hypoglycemia are also being treated with a drug known as metaformin (also known as glucophage), but it is important to remember since PCOS is a life long thing, the drugs should be temporary until control over weight is obtained and the symptoms disappear naturally.
In conclusion, PCOS is a disorder with which a person can live, have children, and have a meaningful fulfilling life even though habits may need to be changed. PCOS affects many women, including many who don't even realize it. Seek out a doctor if you think this might apply to you.
Information from my physician, Dr. Liu. And from http://www.pcos.net/whatis.html