Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a very common endocrine-metabolic disorder that affects women of childbearing age. Women with PCOS can have cysts on one or both ovaries, irregular menstrual periods, or no periods at all, and high androgens levels. The key hormonal disturbances are insulin resistance,hyperinsulinemia (excess insulin), and hyperandrogenism (excess androgen hormones). Obesity, infertility, and type 2 diabetes are also linked to PCOS. Because PCOS can lead to these health consequences and heart complications, it’s important to prevent and treat it effectively.
SYMPTOMS AND DIAGNOSIS
A diagnosis of PCOS can be made if a woman has 2 of the following:
- Irregular periods
- High levels of androgens
- Cysts on the ovaries
Not all women with PCOS have ovarian cysts, and cysts can be detected by ultrasound.
The most common symptom is irregular periods, and this includes long menstrual cycles, absent periods, and menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding).
High levels of androgens will cause hirsutism (excess facial and body hair), male pattern baldness, and acne.
Many factors contribute to PCOS, and excess insulin is one of the key ones. Excess insulin is itself a serious condition, but it also increases androgens. Obesity can worsen some features of PCOS, such as hyperandrogenism and hirsutism. PCOS can also be hereditary, so if your mom or sister has it, you have a higher risk of develop it.
Treatment should start with exercise, because if you’re overweight, losing weight can improve several features of PCOS. A recent study shows that a weight loss of 5% of body weight can improve ovulation rates. http://www.eurekaselect.com/97085/article
A low-glycemic diet plan should be adopted to reduce excess insulin production. This means enjoying carbohydrates such as beans, whole-wheat pasta, and buckwheat.
If necessary, you might be prescribed medications that will help ease your symptoms. Metformin and other insulin-sensitizing drugs can lower androgen levels, and improve ovulation. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23875167
You could also be prescribed birth control pills to improve your menstrual cycle. Spironolactone can be prescribed to lower androgens and prevent male-pattern baldness, but must not be used if pregnant. Eflornithine is a cream that can slow facial hair growth, but shouldn’t be used if pregnant.
If you’re trying to become pregnant, then Clomiphene can be used to induce ovulation.
These drugs have side effects, and it might be prudent to try other non-drug approaches before. The natural compounds myo-inostiol and D-chiro inositol have been shown to improve hormonal and metabolic features of PCOS.
Some research suggests that Vitamin D supplements can improve menstrual frequency in women with PCOS, and larger trials should yield more information on its role in PCOS. The vitamin must be administered with fat or it won’t be properly absorbed.
PCOS is a condition that must addressed as soon as you have symptoms of it, because it can lead to other serious health problems. Discuss the treatment options with your doctor.