Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance which can cause symptoms such as irregular or infrequent periods, excess hair growth (hirsuitism), acne, infertility and the appearance of multiple small cysts on ovaries on ultrasound scan. These symptoms vary greatly in each woman, and can be associated with significant anxiety and depression.
How is it diagnosed?
Not every woman will have all the signs and symptoms of PCOS. Traditionally, PCOS is diagnosed when there are at least two of the following signs or symptoms:
- Menstrual abnormality – infrequent and irregular periods
- High levels of male hormones (androgens) – either on a blood test or when there are symptoms such as voice deepening, excessive hair growth or acne.
- The appearance of ‘polycystic’ ovaries on ultrasound – the definition of this varies with a woman’s age at the time of her ultrasound.
You will likely be asked to have a transvaginal ultrasound, as well as some blood tests to test for the levels of various male and female hormones in your body, when your doctor is suspicious of PCOS. You may also have your glucose and cholesterol levels checked, as there is a link between PCOS, insulin resistance and heart disease.
Treatment for PCOS depends on your symptoms and desire to conceive and includes:
- Lifestyle modification, including a healthy diet and loss of excess weight. A small reduction of weight (5-10%) in overweight women can help to improve menstrual cycles and fertility
- Excess hair and acne can be managed with cosmetic treatments or hormonal therapy (anti-androgenic medication)
- Hormonal therapy – this may be to induce ovulation or control symptoms such as acne and hair growth
- Anti-anxiety or antidepressive therapy
- Non hormonal medications such as Metformin, which aids your body to effectively use insulin
Are there any long term effects?
Yes! PCOS is associated with some long term health risks such as :
- precancerous or cancerous changes in the uterine lining
- insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (metabolic syndrome)
- heart disease