What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common disorder that affects a woman’s hormone levels. A hormonal imbalance occurs when the ovaries produce an unusually high amount of male hormones called androgens.
Women with PCOS will often experience infrequent or absent menstrual periods due to the lack of ovulation (anovulation). While multiple cysts (fluid-filled sacs) may develop in the ovaries, you do not necessarily need to have these cysts to be diagnosed with PCOS.
What causes Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
The exact cause is unknown, but there are a few factors that may contribute to the cause of PCOS:
PCOS may be linked to genes running in your family.
Insulin affects the way your body process glucose (sugar) for energy. When there is insulin resistance, it causes your blood sugar to rise and triggers the increase of male hormones.
Women with PCOS often have increased levels of inflammation in their bodies. This type of low-grade inflammation can stimulate the polycystic ovaries to produce excess male hormones.
What are the symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
PCOS can occur any time after puberty but typically develops around the time of your first menstrual period. You may experience the following symptoms if you have PCOS:
- Irregular periods or no periods at all
- Heavy bleeding during period
- Excessive or abnormal hair growth on face and body
- Weight gain
- Hair thinning or hair loss
- Darkening of the skin
Risks and complications of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Besides affecting your fertility, PCOS has been shown to increase the risk for several health problems, which include:
- Endometrial cancer
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Miscarriage or premature birth
- Sleep apnea
Despite the increased risks for these complications, they are preventable. Talk to your gynaecologist about how to circumvent the risk factors through medical treatment and lifestyle changes.
How is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome diagnosed?
Besides discussing your menstrual cycles and medical history, your gynaecologist will perform a physical examination. The gynaecologist will check for signs of excess hair growth, discoloured skin and acne, as well as measure your weight and blood pressure.
Additional diagnostic tests, such as blood tests or pelvic ultrasound scans, may also be conducted to check your hormone levels and structural abnormalities in your ovaries and uterus.
Once the diagnosis is completed, the gynaecologist will confirm whether you have PCOS based on at least two of these three main symptoms:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- High androgen level
- Presence of polycystic ovaries
What are the treatment options for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
PCOS is not curable, but there are several ways to manage your symptoms. Depending on your symptoms and medical history, your gynaecologist may recommend the following treatments:
Birth control medication is the most common treatment for regulating the menstrual cycle. You may be prescribed progestin and estrogen in the form of pills or patches to decrease androgen production. Restoring your hormonal balance helps to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer and excessive hair growth and acne.
To induce ovulation and fertility, medications such as clomiphene and letrozole can work to stimulate ovaries and aid in pregnancy.
Your gynaecologist may also recommend metformin to improve insulin resistance to help improve fertility and prevent type 2 diabetes.
Weight loss can improve PCOS symptoms by reducing insulin and androgen levels. Having a healthy low-fat, low-sugar diet can help lower your blood sugar. Getting regular exercise also keeps your weight under control, which will help to prevent high insulin levels and diabetes.
Electrolysis is an effective hair removal treatment for excessive hair growth. The procedure works by emitting electric currents to destroy hair follicles under the skin surface.
In vitro fertilisation (IVF)
For women who have fertility issues, IVF can increase the chances of pregnancy through assisted reproductive technology. However, the procedure is costly, and the chances of conception can vary depending on factors such as age and body weight.
Besides IVF, surgery is an option when other fertility treatments do not work. Ovarian drilling is a surgical procedure that restores ovulation by removing tissues in the ovaries that produce androgens.
Make an Appointment
Make an appointment online or contact a women's clinic near you to consult a gynaecologist. To make an appointment, select "Specialist Appointment". Under Specialist Appointment Details, select "Obstetrics & Gynaecology".