Many women experience periodic weight gain, occasional acne, irregular periods and difficulty getting pregnant. But when those symptoms persist, they could indicate a deeper issue like PCOS.
Also known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, PCOS is one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders in women. In fact, 5 to 10 percent of childbearing age women are affected by PCOS, with about half of them remaining undiagnosed.
“Women in my clinic with PCOS are often very frustrated with the symptoms,” said Dr. Rema A. Gupta, a board certified endocrinologist at UCF Health. “Fortunately, there are many effective treatments to manage the symptoms, as well as help prevent additional conditions common with the disease. This is especially important when you consider that a diagnosis of PCOS increases the risk of developing pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes by five to 10 fold.”
There isn’t a single test for PCOS, so your doctor will take various factors into consideration before making a diagnosis. He or she will ask questions about your past menstrual cycles, fertility, weight changes, sleep patterns, fatigue, depression, medications and general health status. During the exam, your blood pressure and weight are important components; as well as presence of hair growth, skin discoloration, skin tags, acne and thinning hair. There are blood tests to measure testosterone and glucose levels. And on occasion, a gynecologist will conduct a vaginal ultrasound to examine the endometrial lining and determine whether cysts are present.
Dr. Gupta added that a variety of treatments are available for PCOS. Some of the most popular strategies include:
- Lifestyle Modifications – Weight loss and exercise are popular recommendations for women with PCOS. It’s helpful to work with someone who specializes in nutrition for people with PCOS or diabetes. Stress management and smoking cessation also are critically important.
- Birth Control Pills – This can help regulate the menstrual cycle, aid in future conception, reduce the male hormone level and help clear acne.
- Metformin (Glucophage) – By improving the way the body reacts to blood glucose (sugar) and testosterone levels, Metformin often is successful at controlling abnormal hair growth and weight gain, as well as assisting in ovulation. This medication also is used for people with Type 2 diabetes.
- Fertility Medications – When trying to get pregnant, your gynecologist may use a medication to stimulate ovulation like Clomid or Letrozole.
“Since there is no magic formula that works for everyone with PCOS, having a close partnership with your primary care physician, endocrinologist and/or gynecologist, is key for long-term health,” said Dr. Gupta.