Characterized by several small cysts in the ovaries, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is also known as polycystic ovary disease, polyfollicular ovarian disease or Stein-Leventhal syndrome.
Occurring across all races and ethic backgrounds, PCOS is the most prevalent hormonal disorder and the leading cause of infertility in women. The condition affects a significant percentage – about 5-10% – of women of reproductive age. It is estimated that as many as 30% of women have some characteristics of PCOS.
In a woman with PCOS, the ovaries produce much more androgens (male hormones) than necessary, which can stall the development and release of eggs. When an egg matures in a healthy woman, it is released from the follicle sac and travels to the uterus where it can be fertilized or released through menstruation. With PCOS, the eggs may not mature, or the maturation may be delayed. When this happens, the follicles can build up in the ovaries and form cysts. This creates gaps in the menstrual cycle, which is why many women with PCOS don’t have regular periods.
What Causes PCOS?
The difference between a syndrome and a disease is that a syndrome may have many possible causes or characteristics. So far, medical research has not determined one exact cause of PCOS. Women with a small number of ovarian cysts may have PCOS, but women with a greater number of cysts may not. This leads researchers to believe that the origin of the problem may not be the cysts themselves.
PCOS may also have genetic roots, but there is not yet enough scientific evidence to prove the syndrome is hereditary. In addition, not all PCOS women have difficulty becoming pregnant or have excessive body hair.
The most commonly believed cause of PCOS is insulin resistance. Women with PCOS are often found to be producing high levels of insulin – which signals the ovaries to release more androgens than are needed. This is not only risky for infertility, but can increase the threat of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
If you have PCOS, there are a number of options that can be explored. You can be placed on medication that regulates your menstrual cycle, such as low-dose birth control pills. Your doctor may also prescribe hormones like progesterone or type 2 diabetes medications that lower insulin levels.
If you are trying to become pregnant, a medication that induces ovulation may be the answer. There is also the option of surgery – Laparoscopic Ovarian Drilling is a procedure that involves making a small incision in your abdomen with a camera attached. The surgeon then uses lasers or other electrical equipment to burn holes in the follicles to induce ovulation.
Of course, the right treatment depends on your body, your goals for childbearing and your individual health history. There may not be a cure for PCOS, but there are plenty of options to help get your body on the right track. As always, please contact us with any questions!