Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: What It Is & How to Manage It

Read about how to recognize the symptoms and take action to protect your reproductive health.

Skrevet af:

wawa fertility

07. februar - 2022

In short:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome, PCOS, is the most common hormonal disorder of women and a common cause of female infertility, but is often misdiagnosed or overlooked.
  • One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is irregular periods. Other symptoms can include acne, hair loss on the scalp, excess facial or body hair, obesity and infertility.
  • There is no cure for PCOS. Treatment is based on symptoms and whether there is a desire for pregnancy.
  • Women with PCOS who do conceive are at greater risk of having pregnancy complications, like gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders and miscarriage along with other chronic ailments, like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, endometrial cancer, sleep apnea, depression and anxiety.

Many women with irregular periods are told it’s no big deal. Tests can eventually led to an accurate diagnosis: polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that disrupts women’s fertility and may cause a host of other health issues. As many as 15 percent of women between 18 and 45 have PCOS, making it the most common hormonal disorder among women of childbearing age.

Know the signs and symptoms

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common hormonal disorder among women, yet often goes underdiagnosed by health care providers. Some women have few, if any, symptoms. Others have many — irregular or absent periods, excess facial or body hair growth (hirsutism), obesity and infertility — but they may be mistaken as signs of other health conditions.

Irregular, unpredictable periods are one important symptom. Periods may come twice a month, be infrequent (greater than 35 days apart) or disappear for months at a time. They may be light or they may be heavy enough to cause anemia. You may suspect PCOS if you also have acne that doesn’t respond to treatment or increased growth of facial or body hair. These are signs of excess androgen hormone.

PCOS may appear as early as adolescence. It’s common for menses to be irregular in girls during the first year or two after the first period. Acne is also common during adolescence. However, if menstrual periods continue to be abnormal after the first two years, or if bleeding is persistently heavy at any time, an evaluation is needed.

Understand how PCOS may affect your fertility

PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility that occurs when ovulation either isn’t happening or is happening infrequently and irregularly. If ovulation is irregular, it’s difficult to time sex to occur when you’re most fertile.

On the other hand, if you want to avoid pregnancy, you want to make sure you don’t have unprotected sex during that fertile time. If you have PCOS, you may spontaneously ovulate at any time, so it is important to use birth control to prevent an accidental pregnancy.

If you have PCOS and wish to get pregnant, your doctor may recommend a first-line treatment for infertility, which is to induce ovulation.

Consider possible treatments

There is no cure for PCOS. Treatment is based on your symptoms and whether you want to have children.

If you are not sure if you want kids or if you are not ready for pregnancy, birth control pills are the first line treatment. The hormones in the pill will prevent thickening of the lining of your uterus. The pill also decreases androgen levels in the blood, improving acne and excess facial hair growth.

Be active in your own health care. The best way to cope with the effect of PCOS on your health, and promote wellness, is to actively participate in your care.

Track your periods. Changes in your menstrual cycle can sometimes indicate health problems, so it’s a good habit to start keeping a record of your menstrual cycles after your very first one. Record the days that you bleed (even if it’s just spotting) and whether flow is light or heavy.

Understand your family history. Though the cause of PCOS is unknown, it is thought to run in families. Ask women in your family about any history of irregular periods or infertility.

Embrace a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy weight by exercising regularly and eating a well-balanced diet can go a long way in managing PCOS and its associated health risks.

Mind your mental health. Women with PCOS are at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders, eating disorders and sexual dysfunction. Weight gain, acne, excess facial hair and infertility may all affect your self-esteem which can lead to depression.

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