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What Is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance in females that can disrupt the menstrual cycle or make it more difficult to become pregnant. While PCOS most typically occurs in young women shortly after their first period, it may also appear later in life. Left untreated, PCOS can eventually lead to the onset of serious medical issues such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Common PCOS Symptoms

PCOS can produce a wide range of symptoms. Some of the more common signs of PCOS include:

  • Menstrual issues. Menstrual issues are the most common PCOS symptom and can include abnormally shorter or longer cycles, heavy bleeding or the inability to menstruate for several months at a time.
  • Higher levels of male hormones. PCOS can result in elevated levels of male hormones, also known as androgens, which can lead to the growth of excess facial or body hair, severe acne or even the onset of male pattern baldness.
  • Fluid-filled sacs around the eggs. The polycystic ovaries may become enlarged and develop small, fluid-filled sacs that surround the eggs. This can result in fertility-related issues such as the failure of the eggs to properly release and miscarriages.
  • Depression and mood swings. Many women from suffering from PCOS will experience moods swings and/or periods of depression.
  • High blood sugar and insulin resistance. PCOS can cause insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels, which can contribute to the onset of obesity. These conditions can in turn cause breathing issues when sleeping, a condition known as sleep apnea.

What Are the Causes of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?

While there is no specific cause of PCOS, there are a number of contributing factors that can lead to its onset:

  • Genetics are believed to play a primary role. PCOS can often be found in mothers and daughters and in female siblings.
  • Insulin resistance can promote androgen production, which may affect the ability to produce eggs.
  • Many women with PCOS experience low-grade inflammation that may stimulate androgen production, further encouraging PCOS development.

When Should You Contact a Doctor?

You should seek treatment if you experience irregular vaginal bleeding or begin to bleed more than normal during menstruation. You should also consider seeing a doctor if your menstrual cycle is normal but you have been unsuccessful in becoming pregnant for at least one year. Other times when medical attention may be necessary are when you experience symptoms of diabetes such as blurred vision, tingling in the hands or feet or frequent urination, or if you notice abnormal hair growth.

PCOS Diagnosis and Treatment

PCOS can be fairly difficult to diagnose. The diagnostic process usually involves a complete assessment of possible PCOS symptoms and your medical history in an effort to rule out other possible conditions. Your doctor will likely perform a series of tests that may include a complete physical exam, blood tests, pelvic exam and/or an ultrasound exam of your ovaries and uterus.

Upon diagnosis, your doctor may recommend treatment methods such as lifestyle changes involving dietary and exercise habits, as well as taking medication to help you ovulate, regulate your menstrual cycle and reduce excessive hair growth.

Contact UPMC in Central Pa. to learn more about PCOS symptoms and possible treatment alternatives.

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