What is the polycystic ovarian syndrome?

The polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine and metabolic disorder that affects 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. The syndrome causes menstrual disorders and affects fertility, appearance and even the emotional status of a woman.

The symptoms related to PCOS are:

  • Menstrual disorders or amenorrhoea
  • Hirsutism
  • Increased weight gain
  • Acne
  • Subfertility

Polycystic ovaries

Polycystic ovaries are larger than normal and with almost double number of oocytes. The polycystic ovaries DO NOT contain cysts but small ovarian follicles with a specific distribution inside the ovary like a “pearl necklace”. The follicles contain oocytes that cannot grow properly due to hormonal disturbance. The polycystic ovaries are benign and usually DO NOT cause pain.

What is the cause of the PCOS?

The exact cause of the PCOS is unknown. Genetic factors are found in some cases. Research has shown that in 24% of women with PCOS there is history of PCOS in their mother and in 32% there is history of PCOS in their sister.

PCOS is an endocrine disorder characterized by:

  • Increase levels of androgens
  • Increased insulin resistance

How is PCOS diagnosed?

For diagnosing PCOS at least 2 of the following criteria need to be fulfilled:

  • Menstrual disturbances, areomenorrhoea or amenorrhoea
  • Hirsutism and increased levels of testosterone in the blood
  • Polycystic ovaries on ultrasound examination

What does PCOS mean for your health?

If you have PCOS you are at increased risk of:

  • Increased insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Endometrial hyperplasia or endometrial cancer for women who have less than 3 periods per year

Is there a treatment for PCOS?

The treatment for PCOS is individualized, based on each woman’s presenting symptoms.

  • Weight loss and exercise
    Weight loss in combination with exercise can improve the hormonal imbalance and reduce the insulin resistance. Weight loss of only 10% could regulate the menstrual cycle and increase fertility.
  • Treatment of hirsutism and acne
    Hirsutism can be treated with laser and other methods. Medical treatments such as oral contraceptives with ant androgenic action could help with symptoms. The treatment might take up to 6 months for the results to show.
  • Medical treatment
    You might need special medical treatment such as clomiphene in order to improve fertility. The type of treatment needed depends on your medical history and differs according to the condition that you need to treat.
  • Surgery
    In some rare cases the treatment of PCOS is done by laparoscopy and diathermy to the ovaries (ovarian drilling). This method is indicated when all other methods of ovulation induction have failed in women who suffer from subfertility.

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