Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common and complex endocrine disorder that causes an imbalance of reproductive hormones during a woman’s childbearing years (ages 15-44). Women’s health experts call PCOS a syndrome — not a disease — because so much about it remains a mystery, including its exact underlying cause.
About 1 in 10 women of reproductive age lives with the wide-ranging effects of PCOS: Some of these effects are hidden, while others are highly visible. Although symptoms often begin soon after puberty, many women don’t find out they have PCOS until sometime in their 20s or 30s, when the condition prevents pregnancy.
While much remains to be discovered about PCOS, there’s a whole lot we do know about its complexities, symptoms, health risks, and management. Here at New Beginnings OB/GYN in Shenandoah, Texas, our skilled team specializes in diagnosing and treating PCOS to help you live a fuller, healthier life.
Here, Dr. Christina Parmar and Dr. Rania Ibrahim discuss the complexities of PCOS, including how it can affect your appearance and health, and explains what you can do about it.
As the product of complex interactions between your ovaries, certain hormones, and insulin, PCOS causes reproductive hormonal imbalances and metabolism problems that can affect your overall health and appearance as well as your ability to conceive — PCOS is a common (but treatable) cause of infertility.
The complicated and not yet fully understood interplay behind PCOS can trigger various problems and abnormalities. Our team makes a clinical diagnosis of PCOS when at least two of the following three symptoms are present:
Having irregular menstrual periods, including missed periods, is a common sign of PCOS. Some women have fewer than eight periods a year, while others have periods that last longer than normal. Some women with PCOS stop having menstrual periods altogether.
Women with PCOS have more androgens than normal. Androgens (including testosterone) are often called “male hormones” because they control male traits and reproduction in men, but women’s bodies also make androgens. However, when women have too much androgen, it can prevent ovulation and cause extra hair growth, acne, and other problems.
As its name implies, PCOS may also trigger the development of many small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) along the edges of one or both ovaries. Visible on an ultrasound exam, these tiny cysts (which aren’t the same as larger ovarian cysts) can interfere with normal ovulation and fertility.
Most of the conspicuous physical effects of PCOS come from having excess androgens, excess insulin, or both. Common physical signs of PCOS include:
High androgen levels can cause women with PCOS to grow dark hair on their face, chin, chest, or abdomen (places men normally grow more hair). Known as hirsutism, this problem affects over 70% of women with PCOS.
Excess androgens also cause oily skin and acne that persists past adolescence. It often appears on the face, chest, or upper back and may not respond well to usual treatments.
For some women, high androgen levels cause noticeable hair loss through thinning scalp hair or even male-pattern baldness (receding hairline).
With PCOS, your body may not respond properly to insulin, the hormone your pancreas makes to help regulate your blood sugar (glucose) levels. Known as insulin resistance, this condition causes your body to produce more insulin than it needs, setting the stage for various health problems, including weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
Dark patches of thickened, velvety skin — particularly along neck creases, in the groin, and beneath the breasts — is another sign of excess insulin. Known as acanthosis nigricans, this symptom is associated with prediabetes and diabetes.
Excess insulin can also cause the appearance of skin tags or small excess flaps of skin in your armpit or along your neck.
While fertility problems, unwanted facial hair growth, and acne are the PCOS symptoms that often prompt women to seek medical care, the hidden health complications of PCOS are far more concerning. Women with PCOS are much more likely to develop:
Luckily, there’s a lot we can do to help you manage PCOS and its effects, starting with weight control, when applicable — most PCOS symptoms and complications are made significantly worse by excess body weight or obesity.
From lifestyle modifications like switching to a heart-healthy diet and getting more exercise to medical interventions like menstrual cycle regulation, fertility treatment, acne care, and hair removal recommendations, we can help you ease PCOS symptoms and reduce your risk of serious future health problems.
Whether you suspect you have PCOS or you’ve already been diagnosed, our team at New Beginnings OB/GYN can help. Call 936-245-8830 today, or use our online booking feature to schedule an appointment any time.