Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a common problem in women of childbearing age. Studies estimate up to 10% of American women have this condition. The basic problem in this condition is too many hormones from different body organs. Hormones are the “chemical messengers” in the body, so PCOS can cause a large number of short term and long term problems that may not at first seem to be related.
Many women may have PCOS and do not know it. Did you have normal monthly periods for a time in your life, but then the periods have become spaced apart to the point you may go months without a cycle? Are you troubled by bad acne? Do you struggle with hair growth in “central” body areas like your face, neck, chest, and upper abdomen? Have you been unable to become pregnant? Have you been pregnant, only to lose the pregnancies early on? Are you overweight, especially in the middle of your body (belly instead of hips)? Most women with PCOS have at least 1 of the following symptoms:
– No periods or widely spaced (greater than 1 month) periods
– Infertility (unable to become pregnant or a history of lost pregnancies)
– Midline facial hair (face, neck, chest)
– Obesity-especially being overweight in the central, stomach area
Note that you can have PCOS without having all of these symptoms. For instance, a thin woman could have PCOS.
If you note these symptoms in yourself or a family member, be sure to mention them to your doctor. Do not be shy or ashamed. Finding and treating PCOS is crucial, since it has major “short term” and “long term” effects. Understandably, many women focus on the immediate, visible problems of unwanted hair and irregular or non existent cycles.
However, untreated and unmonitored PCOS can lead to very early development of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease (clogged arteries and heart attacks). All of these conditions are true killers and can take years from your life if not treated. Also, the lack of regular periods can lead to an increased risk of endometrial cancer.
To help diagnose PCOS, your doctor will first need some blood tests and may also need an ultrasound to check your organs. The blood work is important to not only help diagnose PCOS but to also check for diabetes and high cholesterol.
Several treatments are available to fight the symptoms of PCOS like irregular cycles, infertility and unwanted hair.
Along with medicine, a key part of PCOS therapy is regular exercise. More than any pill, regular exercise can cure most of the problems of PCOS.
From setting up regular periods to preventing diabetes and heart atacks, exercise is the foundation to any PCOS treatment plan.
Great benefit can occur from even small amounts (10-15 pounds) of weight loss. The bottom line is PCOS is common and can have
major effects on a woman’s mental, physical, and spiritual health. The key is to catch it and treat the syndrome.