Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Introduction to Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that causes a change in the way your ovaries work.
What is Polycystic ovary syndrome?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that causes a change in the way your ovaries work. Diagnosis of the disease is usually made if you exhibit two of the following three key features: Large ovaries with many fluid filled cysts, irregular periods that may may prevent the normal release of these eggs (ovulation) as part of a typical menstrual cycle or increased levels of androgens (male hormones) in your body
This disease is thought to affect around 1 in 5 women in the UK, but not every person will display any notable symptoms. Unfortunately there is not a definitive cure for PCOS, but early diagnosis can help in controlling symptoms, and treatment can significantly improve quality of life whilst minimising long term problems.
What are the causes for the Polycystic ovary syndrome?
Doctors do not yet fully understand the causes of PCOS, and it’s likely that many different factors are involved. It does run in families, so you are more likely to get this condition if a close family member already has it.
It is thought that abnormal hormone levels in the body may be the underlying cause. High levels of insulin, a hormone that controls your sugar levels, may subsequently cause high levels of other hormones, such as testosterone. In turn, this will contribute to developing a number of symptoms typical of the disease.
What are the symptoms of Polycystic ovary syndrome?
Symptoms are often mild at first, and the number and severity of symptoms can vary between different women. Some of the most common ones include: acne or oily skin, irregular or absent periods, weight gain, thinning of the hair on the top of your head, excess hair (hirstutism) – typically on the face, chest, abdomen or back or difficulty getting pregnant.
PCOS is also linked to a higher risk of developing some serious conditions later in life such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and womb cancer.
How is Polycystic ovary syndrome treated?
Although there is no cure, if you think that you may have PCOS it’s important to speak with your GP. They will be able to advise you on appropriate treatment options that can help manage some of the symptoms. The treatment itself will vary massively between different people, this is because the disease affects people in many different ways.
Lifestyle changes will usually be the first choice for many of those suffering from this condition. Losing excess weight can significantly reduce your risk of PCOS and the long term problems that are associated with it. This can be achieved by increasing the amount of exercise you do, and by maintaining a healthy diet.
Providing that you’re not planning a pregnancy, hormone therapy such as taking the combined contraceptive pill can result in more regular periods. Correcting your hormone levels in this way might also help with acne, hair loss on the top of your head, and unwanted hair growth. This type of treatment also carries the extra benefit of reducing your risk of developing cancer of the womb lining (endometrial cancer). An additional medication called Spironolactone may also be given to reduce the levels of male hormones.
Some people use bleaching to hide areas of unwanted hair, and a cream called eflornithine can be applied to slow down hair growth. Neither of these methods actually remove the hair however, and there is some debate regarding exactly how effective the cream is. Removal of unwanted hair can be achieved through shaving, plucking, waxing, laser removal or electrolysis.
With regards to the issue of infertility, a medication called clomifene is usually given first to those with PCOS who would like to get pregnant, but a drug called metformin may also be recommended. They can promote the the monthly release of an egg that is seen in a normal menstrual cycle. If medication is unsuccessful in trying to promote fertility your GP may discuss other options with you, and a minor surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling might lower testosterone levels and restore normal function to your ovaries.