You’ve just been diagnosed with PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, but chances are, you have been living with some of the uncomfortable symptoms of PCOS for a while now. Getting this diagnosis has probably come after an arduous journey to find answers. You may even feel some relief in finally having a diagnosis for the struggles you’ve endured.
Take heart. You are not alone. There is a lot to learn about PCOS, and it’s important to know that this information will help you manage your symptoms better so you can get on with the business of your life. September is National PCOS Awareness Month, and we’re answering some of the most asked questions our readers have about PCOS.
What Is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, known less commonly as Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, is a disorder of the endocrine system. A hormonal imbalance causes a woman’s ovaries to be enlarged and collect fluid in each ovary. The imbalance causes the follicles to “hold” the eggs from being released during ovulation or to be malformed and thus not viable for release. The result is irregular monthly periods, and small fluid-filled cysts on the ovaries develop.
The symptoms of PCOS can include a combination or variation of the following:
- Irregular menstrual cycle – this can mean missing a month or more of your cycle. Sometimes, it means the absence of a monthly cycle altogether. Or your periods might vary widely from month to month.
- 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. This symptom of PCOS affects up to 70% of women with the syndrome.
- Acne – breakouts on your face, chest, and upper back
- Hair Loss – you might experience thinning hair or hair loss on the scalp, including male-pattern baldness
- Weight issues – weight gain or difficulty losing weight is a prevalent 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, in the armpits or neck area
Who is at Risk for PCOS?
PCOS is most commonly diagnosed in women who are in their 20’s and 30’s. But the range of this disorder is broader than that. Approximately 5% to 10% of women in their child-bearing years (ages 15-44) are diagnosed with the syndrome. Additionally, you might be at increased risk if you are obese or have a mother, sister, or aunt with PCOS.
What Causes PCOS?
Unfortunately, the exact cause of PCOS is not known. It’s believed that the combination of the hormonal imbalance with several other risk factors leads to the manifestation of the syndrome. It’s also likely that there is a genetic component. Environmental factors, like diet and nutrition, are also linked to PCOS.
How Can I Manage My Symptoms?
While there is no known cure for PCOS, there are essential things you can do to manage and alleviate your symptoms. These lifestyle changes are not only beneficial for managing your symptoms, but they can also help improve your general health and fertility.
Healthy diet and exercise
If you are a PCOS patient who is obese, this lifestyle change can be very beneficial. Losing even 5-10% of your body weight can significantly improve the discomfort of PCOS.
Birth control pills
The pill can help decrease the acne of PCOS and balance the hormones that drive excess hair growth and irregular menstrual cycles.
Frequently, doctors prescribe Metformin for women with PCOS who are insulin-resistant. It can aid in weight loss and blood sugar regulation. Your reproductive endocrinologist may prescribe Clomid to help regulate your ovulation if you are having difficulty conceiving.
Some women find great relief from the excess hair growth with this treatment. Be sure you find a reputable provider who prioritizes sanitation during treatment. It’s important to avoid infection, especially if you have acne in the same places with excess hair.
Many patients with PCOS use topical ointments and antibiotics to manage the breakouts that come along with PCOS. A reputable dermatologist will be an excellent resource for the most effective treatments.
Can I get Pregnant with PCOS?
Many factors contribute to your ability to conceive, including age, results of your fertility testing, and the presence of any additional fertility-related conditions. Success in achieving pregnancy will also depend upon the type of fertility treatment that you pursue.
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. If you want to get pregnant and you suspect you have PCOS or have already been diagnosed, make sure you work with a reproductive endocrinologist.
Find Your People
If you live with PCOS or are recently diagnosed, it’s essential to take care of yourself. It is also a good idea to build a good support network of friends and family. These people should be ones you can count on to help you cope with the symptoms and support you in the necessary lifestyle changes. It would also be helpful to have someone you can talk with through the treatment options your specialists recommend. It’s hard work to get it all started, but you can build a new normal for yourself with the proper support and information.
- Mayo Clinic’s Patient Care and Health Info, Diseases and Conditions, PCOS
- Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, A-Z Health Topics
- Resolve.org’s Medical Conditions, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Image Credits: Jonathan Cutrer; Sakura sorral; Dave Rosenblum