A hormone disorder that causes women to have infrequent or absent periods could lead to far more serious medical conditions, including cancer.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is found in an estimated 5 to 15 percent of reproductive-aged women. Patients with PCOS are frequently seeking fertility care after experiencing menstrual irregularities.
The implications of PCOS, however, encompass far beyond the fertility world. It’s important that the diagnosis is made early for all women of the reproductive years, including adolescents. If left untreated, women with PCOS are at an increased risk of developing uterine cancer, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
To be diagnosed with PCOS, two of the following criteria must be met:
- Infrequent or absent periods
- Increased hair growth throughout the body and face or high levels of testosterone levels noted through blood work
- Multiple cysts or an increased ovarian volume viewed on an ultrasound
Some problems women with PCOS may notice are obesity, weight gain, infertility, acne and increased hair growth in areas such as the face, abdomen and inner thigh. Sleep apnea and mood disorders may also accompany the condition.
Other conditions can mimic PCOS, so a thorough history and examination with a health care provider can differentiate the conditions and guide treatment options.
Because the cause of PCOS is not well defined, treatment depends on the patient’s symptoms and goals. Lifestyle modification and weight loss remain the cornerstone of treatment. In the overweight patient, even a 5 percent total weight loss may help women restore normal menstrual cycles and improve hormonal balance.
Sanford Health Fertility and Reproductive Medicine serves patients who are attempting pregnancy and also helps non-fertility PCOS patients to determine individual health and lifestyle goals. Health coaches, dietitians, dermatology services and counselors are among the those on the multidisciplinary care team.