Missed periods, facial hair, acne — these are just a few of the signs of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which affects 1 in 10 women during their childbearing years.
In this month’s blog post, the team here at Advanced Endometriosis Center, led by Dr. Ulas Bozdogan, takes a closer look at PCOS — what it is, some of the more common symptoms, and how we can help.
Under normal circumstances, your ovaries regulate your reproductive hormones, which includes estrogen, progesterone, and, yes, androgens, which are commonly referred to as “male” hormones. Just as women produce small amounts of androgens, men produce small amounts of estrogen, but it’s the balance between the two that leads to our primary gender characteristics.
With PCOS, there’s a hormonal imbalance, and you have higher-than-normal levels of androgens that interfere with ovulation and lead to certain side effects, which we’ll get to in the next section.
Another potential cause of PCOS is higher-than-normal levels of insulin, a hormone that aids in converting food into energy. If you develop insulin resistance, your pancreas produces more insulin to overcome the resistance, and the hormone floods your bloodstream. While researchers haven’t identified the exact cause-and-effect mechanism between high insulin levels and PCOS, many women with PCOS also have insulin resistance.
When you have higher-than-normal levels of androgens, the imbalance can lead to a number of side effects, including:
We mentioned that PCOS can interfere with ovulation, but we want to flesh this idea out a little bit. The extra androgens in your system can lead to poor egg development and problems with egg release.
Normally, your ovaries release your eggs through follicles, but if the egg isn’t properly formed or doesn’t release, this follicle can turn into a cyst, which is why the condition contains the word “polycystic.”
Many women have cysts on their ovaries during their reproductive years, but they’re usually not all that problematic and clear up on their own. With PCOS, each time your ovaries are unsuccessful in releasing an egg, an ovarian cyst may develop, and these cysts can add up.
As a result of this poor ovulation, you can experience irregular periods, which means missed periods, no periods, or periods that come more often than every 21 days or less often than every 35 days. Of course, these irregular periods can greatly interfere with your fertility.
If you’ve ever wondered why men have facial hair and more body hair, the answer comes down to androgens. If you have high levels of androgens, you, too, can develop facial and body hair, which is a condition called hirsutism. Around 70% of women with PCOS develop this symptom.
At the same time as you experience an increase in facial and body hair, the hair on your head can begin to thin, which is essentially male-pattern baldness.
Androgens can lead to more oil production in your skin, which can, in turn, lead to clogged pores and acne on your face, chest, and back.
Rounding out the list of common symptoms of PCOS is weight gain, difficulty losing weight, and dark patches of skin.
If we diagnose you with PCOS, how we go about treating the problem depends upon your goals. If you’re not concerned about fertility, taking hormonal birth control medications can be effective, because they can help balance out your reproductive hormones.
Another approach is to prescribe you with anti-androgen medications that block the male hormones.
If you have insulin resistance-related PCOS, lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and controlling your sugar intake, may help greatly.
If you do want to get pregnant, and cysts on your ovaries are creating problems with fertility, Dr. Bozdogan excels in minimally invasive surgical procedures, during which he removes problematic cysts.
If you have more questions about PCOS and your treatment options, book an appointment online or over the phone with Advanced Endometriosis Center today. We have two offices, one on the Upper East Side in New York City and the other in Hackensack, New Jersey.