Hormonal Imbalances

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is common among reproductive-aged women. Women with PCOS experience irregular menstrual periods and frequently have oily skin, acne, and growth of facial hair usually involving the upper lip and chin. About half of women with PCOS are overweight. The ovaries of women with PCOS show multiple, small cysts often 20 or more on an ultrasound. In PCOS, an excess of testosterone affects the ovaries, preventing women from ovulating monthly, and also causes these cosmetic problems. Irregular periods often cause infertility in these women.

Because a woman with PCOS only may have a few menstrual periods each year, she may have trouble getting pregnant. In fact, PCOS is the most frequent cause of infertility in reproductive-aged women. Women with PCOS also may be at an increased risk for miscarriage because of hormonal imbalances.

Diagnosis

Physicians diagnose PCOS by the patient's history, and frequently use ultrasound and blood testing to confirm the diagnosis. Women with PCOS often have high insulin levels; while they are not diabetic, high insulin levels can contribute to menstrual irregularities and cosmetic problems.

Treatment

The treatment of PCOS can be quite simple. For women who are not trying to become pregnant, birth control pills (BCPs) can regulate a womans menstrual cycle and control the hormonal imbalances. Other medicines can be used in combination with BCPs, if needed. For women who desire pregnancy, medicines are used to induce ovulation and lower insulin levels that may interfere with ovulation. These medicines also may reduce the risk of miscarriage. Weight loss also is important in women with PCOS, as losing even a small amount of weight can help to restore regular menstrual periods.