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What is PCOS and What Do I Do About It?

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), you’re likely experiencing mixed emotions, and feeling overwhelmed. While there may be a lot to learn about the disease, arming yourself with information about PCOS will help you manage your symptoms better so you can get on with the business of life.

 

What is PCOS?

 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a disorder of the endocrine system that occurs in women of reproductive age.1 Women with PCOS can develop follicles, or small collections of fluid, in their ovaries, which prevents the eggs from being released during ovulation, leading to missed or irregular periods, which in turn can cause infertility, and/or the development of cysts in the ovaries.

As a result, PCOS can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Irregular menstrual cycle – infrequent, irregular or prolonged periods are the most common sign of PCOS. This could cause you to miss a month or more of your cycle, or cause your cycle to vary significantly from month to month.1,2
  • Hirsutism – this is the presence and growth of too much hair on your face, chin, or parts of the body where men usually have hair. 1,2 This symptom of PCOS affects up to 70% of women with the syndrome.2
  • Acne – break-outs on your face, chest, and upper back.1,2
  • Hair Loss – you might experience thinning hair or hair loss on the scalp, including male-pattern baldness.2
  • Weight issues – weight gain or difficulty losing weight is a very common symptom of PCOS.
  • Darkening of skin – this happens particularly along your neck creases, in the groin, and underneath your breasts.
  • Skin tags – these small excess flaps of skin occur commonly with PCOS and often appear in the armpits or neck area.

 

Who is at Risk for PCOS?

 

PCOS is most commonly diagnosed in women who are in their 20s and 30s and affects one in 10 women of child-bearing age.2 Additionally, you might be at increased risk if you are obese or if you have a mother, sister, or aunt with PCOS.2

Unfortunately, the exact cause of PCOS is not known. Hormonal imbalance, genetics, and certain lifestyle factors, like diet and nutrition, are thought to cause to PCOS.1,2

 

How Can I Manage My Symptoms?

 

While there is no known cure for PCOS, there are things you can do to manage and alleviate your symptoms. These lifestyle changes are not only beneficial for the management of PCOS, but they can also improve your general health and fertility.

  • Healthy diet and exercise – This is especially pertinent for PCOS patients who are overweight or obese. It’s been found that losing even 5-10% of your body weight can significantly improve the discomfort of PCOS.2
  • Birth control– Hormonal birth control, like the pill, can be helpful in in balancing the hormones that drive excess hair growth and cause acne/breakouts. Birth control can also help regulate the menstrual cycles, and lower the risk of endometrial cancer.2
  • Laser Electrolysis/Professional Hair Removal – Some women turn to electrolysis, laser hair removal and/or other types of professional hair removal for relief from the excess hair growth with this treatment.2
  • Acne Medications – Many patients with PCOS use topical ointments and antibiotics to manage the break-outs prompted by the hormonal imbalance.2

 

Can I Get Pregnant with PCOS?

 

Generally, the success rates for achieving pregnancy for a PCOS patient range from 15-20% with the more conservative approaches, and up to 40-60% for more advanced fertility treatments.3 If you want to get pregnant and you suspect you have PCOS or you have already been diagnosed, make sure you are working with a doctor that specializes in fertility, like a reproductive endocrinologist (RE).

If you are living with PCOS or have been just diagnosed, it’s important to take care of yourself. It is also a good idea to build a good support network of friends and family to help you cope with the symptoms and adjust to the necessary lifestyle changes you may need to make. Most importantly, make sure you work with your healthcare provider to determine a treatment approach that meets your specific needs that you feel comfortable with.

 

References

  1. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Mayo Clinic Staff. Published August 29, 2017. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439. Accessed October 11, 2017.
  2. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Published July 26, 2017. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome. Accessed October 11, 2017.
  3. Q&A with the Experts: Odds of Getting Pregnant with PCOS. [Interview with Dr. Alan Martinez]. Published February 10, 2016. Available at: https://creatingafamily.org/infertility-category/odds-of-getting-pregnant-with-pcos/. Accessed October 11, 2017.
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