What is PCOS? Dealing with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common issue for women who are of reproductive age. Its hormone induced symptoms – including weight gain, depression, acne and excessive body and facial hair – can become cyclical as one symptom feeds into another. PCOS not only interferes with your daily life and happiness, if left untreated it can pose serious risks to your health and fertility.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a medical condition that interferes with the normal processes of ovulation. This interference is linked to a woman’s abnormally high production of the male hormone androgen.

What Causes PCOS?

The high levels of androgen that cause PCOS prevent egg follicles from breaking open to release their eggs during ovulation. This disruption causes irregular or absent periods. As the egg follicles remain in the ovaries, they form cysts that can cause pain and interfere with a woman's fertility. Other factors that might play a role in PCOS and high androgen production include excess insulin, low-grade inflammation and heredity.

What Causes the Hormonal Imbalance that Triggers PCOS?

The cause for PCOS is still undetermined, but it is believed to be hereditary. Proper diagnosis will have to be made by a urogynecologist or other women’s healthcare specialist and will require tests such as a female pelvic exam. And while there may be no cure for the condition, it can be managed with treatment. 

What are the Symptoms of PCOS?

Women often first notice irregular or absent periods, PCOS also often causes the development of acne, excessive amounts of body hair, thinning hair on the head, hyperpigmentation, weight gain, chronic pelvic pain, anxiety, depression and sleep apnea. Women who are trying to conceive may also notice the related signs of infertility. Women at highest risk for PCOS often come from a family with a history of it, have high levels of insulin in their bodies or are overweight.

In rare cases, PCOS can also contribute to:

  • Gestational diabetes
  • Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
  • Miscarriage or premature birth
  • Liver inflammation and fat accumulation in the liver
  • Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes
  • Cancer of the uterine lining (endometrial cancer)

How Does PCOS Impact Fertility?

High levels of androgen prevent the egg follicles on the ovaries from breaking open to release their eggs. Because the eggs remain on the ovaries rather than traveling down the fallopian tubes, they cannot typically be fertilized and conception cannot occur. Instead, the egg follicles remain in the ovaries and become cysts. PCOS can make conception difficult, but not impossible.

During pregnancy, women with PCOS face additional health challenges that can impact their health and the health of their baby, including:

  • Gestational diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Preeclampsia
  • Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
  • Preterm birth
  • C-Section deliveries
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Inflammation
  • Prenatal depression

Knowing that you are going into pregnancy with these additional risks will help you and your provider take the necessary precautions and preparations to help ensure a successful pregnancy.

How can PCOS be treated?

While there is no cure for PCOS, management is possible with lifestyle changes. A healthier diet, more exercise and weight loss are one way to help the body naturally regulate hormone and insulin levels which can, in turn, alleviate symptoms of PCOS. A PCOS management diet would eliminate alcohol and nicotine as well as sugar, animal fats, processed foods and dairy products to reduce inflammation and help keep insulin levels in check. A healthier diet would focus on whole plant foods including fiber-rich greens, fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes.

If PCOS management through the diet isn't sufficient, other natural options include acupuncture, herbal remedies and meditation. In some cases your health care provider may recommend using prescription medications to help control PCOS, or, in some cases, surgery may be advised. Whatever route is appropriate for an individual’s health, treatment can help lower the risk of complications such as heart disease and diabetes.

If these symptoms and concerns sound familiar to you, the Coyle Institute can determine if you are suffering from PCOS and create a treatment plan that will address your unique issues. It’s important to diagnose and treat PCOS to preserve your fertility and future overall health. Call us to schedule your consultation with our expert, compassionate team today.