Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is also known as the Stein-Leventhal syndrome. It is generally a condition, in which the hormones of a woman are out of balance. It is characterized by abnormal amounts of the male hormone androgen, which results in irregular periods, and cysts in the ovaries. The condition affects women from 12 to 45 years, who are in their reproductive age. PCOS is a complex heterogeneous disorder of uncertain etiology. However, there is strong evidence that it can still be classified as a genetic disorder.

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What causes PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is still unknown. However, doctors believe that hormonal imbalances and genetics play a vital role in this. A woman who has someone suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in her family is more likely to develop the condition. Another contributing factor may be the overproduction of the hormone androgen in the body. Androgen is a male hormone that females also produce. Women suffering from PCOS tend to produce higher levels of androgen. This consequently affects the development and release of eggs during ovulation. Abnormalities like excess insulin or insulin resistance may also cause high levels of the hormone androgen, and consequently result to the development of PCOS.

What are the key symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Symptoms of PCOS start as soon after a woman begins to menstruate. These symptoms vary from person to person, in both type and severity. The most common sign of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is irregular menstrual periods. Other signs may include:

  • Acne or pimples
  • Oily skin and dandruffs
  • Excess hair on the face, chest and other parts of the body
  • Pigmentation especially on the neck and underarms
  • Decrease in breast size
  • Deeper voice
  • Infertility or difficulty in conceiving
  • Thinning of the scalp hair
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Presence of multiple small cysts in the ovaries
  • Obesity or weight problems
  • High levels of cholesterol
  • Pelvic pain
  • Anxiety or depression

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When should you see a doctor for PCOS?

If you have menstrual irregularities such as prolonged periods, infrequent periods or no menstrual periods and excess hair on your face and body or acne, then it is time to see a doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment for polycystic ovarian syndrome may help to lower the risks of long-term complications, such as heart disease, hypertension or high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.

How is PCOS diagnosed?

There is no conclusive test for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. To make a diagnosis, your gynecologist will first review your medical history and then perform tests to rule out the possibility of other conditions. The doctor may also carry out simple physical and pelvic tests to examine the signs of PCOS such as a swollen clitoris or swollen ovaries. Other tests, which might be performed, include:

  • Blood tests: These are done to measure changes in hormone levels.
  • Glucose tests: They are performed to measure the levels of blood sugar.
  • Lipid level tests: They are done to determine the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
  • Thyroid function tests: They are performed to determine the amount of thyroid hormone secreted by your body.

What are the key treatments for pcos?

The polycystic ovary syndrome treatment aims at the management of the individual’s main concerns such as acne, infertility, hirsutism or obesity. The key focus in the treatment is to reduce the excessive growth of hair on the body, reduce weight, help in ovulation, regulate menstrual cycle and control levels of insulin. Here is a list of the methods for treating pcos:

  • Birth control pills: For women who do not want to become pregnant, birth control pills can be used to reduce levels of the hormone androgen, regulate menstrual cycles and help to clear acne.
  • Weight reduction: This is an effective treatment for women who are overweight. Weight reduction helps in the resumption of regular ovulation and normalization of hormonal disturbances. It also has a beneficial impact on the consequences of PCOS such as hypertension, impaired glucose tolerance, cardiovascular diseases and dyslipidemia.
  • Cosmetic treatment for facial hirsutism: This treatment involves laser hair removal and electropilation. It helps to remove excess hair on the face and other parts of the body.
  • Hormone therapy: Hormone treatment is also a good option if you do not want to conceive now, and if you are having problems with excessive hair growth. Your doctor may recommend medicines such as clomiphene or metformin to help you start to ovulate. If medications do not help you to become pregnant, an outpatient surgery known as laparoscopic ovarian drilling may be performed.
  • Regular medical checkups: Regular checkups are essential to help detect PCOS complications such as hypertension, uterine cancer, diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol early.

If you notice any early signs of PCOS, it is advisable you contact your doctor immediately. Even though, there is no exact treatment for PCOS, early treatment of the various symptoms of the condition may help to reduce risks associated with this disorder.

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