by Dr. Amanda Vaughan
September is PCOS Awareness Month, but, for many of my patients, it’s top of mind well beyond September. PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and it is one of the most common ovulatory disorders. While it accounts for 85% of all ovulatory disorders, we’re still not sure exactly what causes it, though genetics may be a factor, and symptoms can vary from woman to woman.
What are the symptoms?
PCOS creates a hormone imbalance that can cause your ovaries to make more male sex hormones (androgens) than normal. As a result, if you have PCOS you may notice that you have more facial and body hair, acne, irregular periods, and weight gain. PCOS is also one of the most common, but treatable, causes of infertility in women because the increase in androgens can stop ovulation. You may also notice that you have thinning hair on your scalp, pelvic pain, and anxiety or depression. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it’s very important to get tested because, if not treated, PCOS can lead to more serious health concerns down the road. Of course, the other reason to seek treatment is because these symptoms are just no fun! I, or any of my fellow physicians at VPFW, are dedicated to helping women feel better and be as healthy as possible, so please make an appointment if you are experiencing these symptoms. It’s also important to know that you are not alone in your experience. The World Health Organization estimates that 116 million women worldwide have PCOS.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
There isn’t a single “PCOS test,” but we can review your medical history and do various exams to determine if PCOS is the cause of your symptoms. Most women find out they have PCOS in their 20s or 30s when they have problems getting pregnant, but symptoms can be present and PCOS can be diagnosed at any age after puberty. If you are experiencing symptoms like those explained above, you can expect us to do a physical and pelvic exam, blood tests to look for sugar and androgen levels, and we may do a vaginal ultrasound to check for cysts on your ovaries, which is the symptom that gives PCOS its name.
What are the treatment options?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for PCOS, but, there are some treatments that may help ease symptoms and increase chances of conception if you are trying to get pregnant. It’s important to always incorporate a balanced diet and exercise into your lifestyle, and, if you have PCOS, a healthy lifestyle and weight loss may help you feel better and lower your risk of infertility, heart disease, diabetes, and uterine cancer. Smoking can cause increased androgen levels, so quitting or avoiding smoking can help, too. If you don’t need to lose weight, and if regular exercise and healthy eating isn’t enough to treat your particular symptoms, we may also try medicine to help start ovulation or birth control hormones if you aren’t planning to get pregnant.
Why is PCOS Awareness so important?
The more we can all work together to help educate ourselves and other women about their health, the better. Nobody should have to just suffer through life with something like PCOS when there are treatments to help ease symptoms and reduce the risk of long term effects like diabetes, high blood pressure, endometrial cancer, and other issues. And, the more we talk about disorders like PCOS, the more we can help support women who are dealing with it. Of course, it all starts by talking with your doctor, so please call us today at 804-897-2100 to make an appointment.