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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): The basics

Women's Health | November 23, 2014 | Author: The Super Pharmacist

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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): The basics

Polycystic ovarian syndrome, also known as polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS, is a very complicated disorder. For women who have this condition, their ovaries present larger than average. The term polycystic refers to the many cysts on the ovaries or follicles that typically do not mature or produce eggs that can be fertilised.

A relatively common disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome affect women between the ages of late adolescence to menopause. PCOS is especially common in women who are infertile.

As many as one third of the women who have polycystic ovaries identified through ultrasound do not actually have PCOS.

However many polycystic ovarian syndrome cases go without diagnosis.

Symptoms of Polycystic ovarian syndrome

The signs and symptoms of PCOS typically start soon after a woman’s first period. However, in some cases the symptoms do not become evident until later on in the woman’s reproductive years, which may be in response to significant weight gain.

While the symptoms of this condition vary from one person to the next in severity and type, a diagnosis is typically made when at least two of the following symptoms are present:

  • Abnormal menstruation – This is the most common symptom of PCOS. Examples of abnormal menstruation include intervals between periods that last longer than thirty-five days, less than eight cycles in a year, no period for four months or longer and prolonged menstruation that can be slight or heavy.
     
  • Elevated androgen levels – Androgens are male hormones that when in excess may result in excessive body or facial hair, acne and male-pattern baldness. However, the symptoms of elevated androgen levels vary according to ethnicity, which means that the symptoms may not be apparent. For example, women of Asian or Northern European descent may not have obvious signs of excess androgen.
     
  • Polycystic ovaries – An ultrasound can be used to detect enlarged ovaries that contain a large number of small cysts. This symptom alone does not confirm a diagnosis of PCOS. At least one of the other symptoms must be present. In addition, some women with the condition may actually have ovaries that appear to be normal.

Women who are affected by polycystic ovary syndrome may also experience:

  • Changes in mood, such as depression and anxiety
  • Infertility
  • Obesity

Treating Polycystic ovarian syndrome

The management of polycystic ovary syndrome will depend on the associated problems, but may include:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Weight loss
  • Medications
  • Hormones

Weight loss

Studies indicate that a weight loss of as little as 5% to 10% for overweight women can restore hormone production to normal, helping to improve fertility and regulate menstruation. A multidisciplinary approach is vital to treating the condition. If only one or two of the symptoms are treated for the short term, the individual can suffer from long-term problems.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a long-term disorder and thus requires long-term treatment.

Treatments for polycystic ovarian syndrome 

  • Oral contraceptives regulate the menstrual cycle, reduce acne and excess hair growth and prevent excessive thickening of the lining of the uterus
     
  • Medications to block hormones in order to reduce hair loss or excessive hair growth
     
  • Infertility drugs, such as clomiphene nitrate or metformin to promote ovulation
     
  • Psychological counselling to cope with the mental effects of the condition

For women who have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, preventing weight gain or losing weight is crucial to relieving symptoms and reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

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References

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association of Australia Inc

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, Health A-Z, PCOS

Boyle J, Teede HJ; Australian Family Physician; Reproductive Health October 2012; Polycystic Ovary Syndrome An Update; Volume 41, No. 10; Pages 752-756

Better Health Channel, Conditions & Treatments, Female Reproductive System – Ovaries, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Women’s Health & Research Institute of Australia Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association of Australia (POSAA)

Teede HJ, Misso ML, Deeks AA, Moran LJ, Stuckey BGA, Wong JLA, Norman RU, Costello MF; The Medical Journal of Australia 1914-2014; Assessment and management of polycystic ovary syndrome: summary of an evidence-based guideline; 2011

Norman RJ, Wu R, Stankiewicz MT; The Medical Journal of Australia 1914-2014; MJA Practice Essentials – Endocrinology; 4: Polycystic ovary syndrome; 2004

Public Health Association of Australia Inc; Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

IVFAustralia, About Fertility, Female Reproduction PCOC; Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

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