Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone disorder in women. Globally, as many as 1 in 5 women may suffer from PCOS; in the US, it is estimated that over 5 million women experience symptoms of this condition. It is one of the leading causes of infertility in women, but it is often overlooked and disregarded. We’re here to help you manage your symptoms and get you on your way to your best life!
In PCOS, the ovaries enlarge and cysts form around the perimeter of the ovaries. These cysts tend to be benign but can lead to a number of health issues including infertility and preeclampsia, early pregnancy loss, and endometrial cancer.
The cause of PCOS is still relatively unknown, but hormone imbalances appear to be the primary contributor. Individuals with PCOS have increased levels of androgens, or male sex hormones, such as testosterone. It is thought that this is a result of one of the primary mechanisms associated with PCOS: insulin resistance. We know insulin to be necessary for processing sugars and carbohydrates – diabetics lack proper insulin function due to complications with pancreatic function. Individuals with insulin resistance will produce more insulin to try to compensate for the loss.
Ovaries contain insulin receptors and thus are sensitive to insulin production. The increased levels of insulin are directly related to androgen excess by stimulating luteinizing hormone (LH) production. In women, LH helps regulate the menstrual cycle and triggers the release of an egg from the ovary during ovulation; in men, this hormone is responsible for the production of testosterone from the testes. Increasing levels of LH in women cause effects similar to those seen in men.
Insulin resistance leads to a variety of metabolic syndromes; women with PCOS are at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
To date, studies have not conclusively identified any genetic links to PCOS. However, individuals who have a first-degree relative (mother, sister) with PCOS may be more likely to suffer as well. Obese persons or those with other coexisting metabolic syndromes, which may also have genetic contributors, may have increased risk of developing PCOS.
Due to the changes in luteinizing hormone, mature eggs aren’t released on a regular cycle, or even at all. Many women don’t have periods and some only have a few a year. Accordingly, many women with PCOS struggle with issues of fertility and getting pregnant. Although benign, cysts can be extremely painful if they burst.
High levels of testosterone and other male hormones can lead to an increase in body hair, especially on the face, chest, back, and bottom which can cause feelings of embarrassment and discomfort. Additional symptoms of androgen excess include adult acne and oily skin, skin tags and dark patches of skin, and weight gain. Anxiety and depression are also common as a result of these symptoms as well as the hormone imbalance.
Not every woman with PCOS will present with every symptom; further, presentation may range from mild to severe to completely asymptomatic.
Diagnosing PCOS isn’t always straightforward and there is no single diagnostic test to confirm the condition. Usually, your doctor will perform a transvaginal ultrasound to confirm the presence of cysts and measure the size of the ovaries. You will likely also have blood drawn to determine the amount of testosterone present as well as measure your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, all of which may be impacted by PCOS.
For some women, PCOS symptoms are fairly mild and don’t have a tremendous impact on everyday life. Many women may not even realize they have the condition until they try to get pregnant. For others, PCOS can be extremely debilitating physically and mentally.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for PCOS. Lifestyle management, including maintaining a healthy weight and eating well, may help balance hormones and limit metabolic syndromes. Similar to those who suffer from diabetes, limiting sugar and simple carbohydrate intake will help with symptoms of insulin resistance. Diets with a “low glycemic index” are typically recommended – these incorporate healthy fats, lean proteins, and lots of fruits and veggies.
Medical intervention, prescriptions, and supplements are often desired by women with PCOS as quick fixes for androgen excess and infertility. It’s important to remember that any medication or procedure should be discussed thoroughly with your provider and that any measure can take time to reflect changes. For those with infertility, IVF and other fertility treatments have helped women get pregnant.
There is no solution that is guaranteed to work for every individual, meaning you might be offered multiple options or have to go through a trial-and-error process. Consultation services at Coast to Coast Compounding can help you determine what is right for you and develop a plan to manage your PCOS.