Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal abnormalities in young women. With the disorder, small, fluid-filled sacs—or cysts—grow inside the ovaries, which affects ovulation.
Many women have PCOS but don’t know it; in fact, some studies suggest that up to 70 percent of women with PCOS haven’t yet been diagnosed! At Arizona Center for Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility, we’ve helped many women determine if PCOS is the reason they’re unable to get pregnant; this is typically what we look for.
The symptoms of PCOS will usually manifest during a woman’s late teens or early 20s. Not every woman with the disorder will experience all of the symptoms, and each one can vary from mild to severe.
Common symptoms of PCOS include:
Irregular or lack of periods
Because PCOS prevents ovulation, the uterine lining doesn’t shed every month so there is no regular period. Some women with PCOS get fewer than eight periods a year.
Since the uterine lining isn’t being shed regularly, it builds up for a longer period of time. Women with PCOS typically experience heavy bleeding whenever they do have a period.
Excessive hair growth (hirsutism)
More than 70 percent of women with PCOS begin growing unwanted hair on their face, chest, stomach, back, buttocks, thumbs, or toes.
About half of women who have PCOS struggle with weight gain or obesity; they also have difficulty losing weight.
Thinning hair or hair loss
Women with the disorder might experience thinning hair or hair loss, which typically worsens as they hit middle age.
The hormone changes related to PCOS can trigger headaches in some women.
Oily skin or acne
Hormone changes can make the skin oilier than usual, which may cause breakouts on the face, chest, and upper back.
Changes in sleep patterns
PCOS can affect women’s sleep cycles; they may have difficulty falling or staying asleep and might feel tired all the time. PCOS is also related to sleep apnea.
Difficulty getting pregnant
Of course, because PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility, women with the disorder will experience difficulty getting pregnant.
If you experience any of these symptoms or think you might have PCOS, talk to your primary care doctor, endocrinologist, or gynecologist. A pelvic exam, blood tests, and ultrasound can confirm the diagnosis.
PCOS cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be managed—and with proper treatment, women with PCOS will still be able to achieve a pregnancy. These are generally the most successful treatments.
If a woman is able to lose just 5 to 10 percent of her body weight, it can help regulate her menstrual cycle and improve PCOS symptoms. A low-carb diet and regular exercise can improve ovulation, as well as insulin levels.
It’s relatively easy to correct the disorder using medication, and pregnancy will typically follow fairly quickly. Metformin—which is used to treat type 2 diabetes—can also treat PCOS by improving insulin levels and ultimately restoring normal menstrual cycles. Clomiphene (or Clomid) is a fertility drug that can help women with PCOS get pregnant. If pregnancy isn’t a concern, birth control pills will help regulate the menstrual cycle and treat many PCOS symptoms, such as hair growth and acne.
If you and your partner have been struggling to get pregnant and you suspect PCOS might be the cause, contact AZCREI today. You can schedule a consultation with our team by calling (520) 326-0001 or by visiting us online.