If you deal with unstable menstrual periods, facial hair and acne, you may be one of the 5% to 26% of women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS is common among women between the ages of 15 and 44, or during their childbearing years. Most patients are diagnosed when they struggle to get pregnant in their 20s and 30s. In fact, PCOS is the most common reason for infertility. The disorder is caused by an imbalance in reproductive hormones, which hinders a woman's egg release and ovulation cycle.
Since PCOS is a health problem that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, it's important for you to know the facts.
Signs and symptoms
PCOS can trigger a variety of signs and symptoms in women, such as:
• Irregular periods. Some women have no periods and some have more than one period per month.
• Cysts on the ovaries.
• Weight gain or trouble losing weight.
• Hair growth on the face, chest and back.
• Loss of hair on the scalp.
• Bad acne.
• Oily skin.
• Acanthosis nigricans (thick, patchy skin).
Although infertility is one of the biggest complications of PCOS, the condition also can cause problems once a woman does get pregnant: Her chances for miscarriages, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia—dangerously high blood pressure—go up.
The complications go beyond the reproductive system alone. Women with PCOS are at risk of developing anxiety, depression, sleep problems, obesity, uterine cancer, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and diabetes and insulin resistance.
Treatment can help
If you think you have PCOS, the first step is to talk to your primary care provider. Your treatment plan will be based on your particular symptoms and needs.
For instance, medicines can be used to treat insulin resistance, to lower the level of androgens (male reproductive hormones) that cause skin and hair problems, or to regulate menstrual cycles and reduce acne.
If you want to get pregnant, your provider may prescribe medications to help with ovulation. Losing even a small amount of weight (if you're overweight) may help regulate your periods and improve fertility. And in vitro fertilization may be an option if medicine doesn't work.
Although PCOS has no cure, treatment can help manage the condition and its complications. Work with your OB-GYN provider to figure out the best treatments for you.
Sources: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; National Institutes of Health; Office on Women's Health