While you might think acne, a deepening voice, facial hair, infertility, diabetes and irregular menstrual periods are independent of each other, they may be linked.
Together they suggest polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a disorder in which eggs that the ovaries normally would release collect on the ovaries instead, leading to sporadic periods and other symptoms, says Daniel R. Bradke, MD, an OB/GYN with Memorial Hermann Medical Group Kingwood Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Here’s what you need to know about PCOS:
ONE: It is indeed a syndrome.
PCOS’ name is literal: “Poly” refers to the multiple cysts that collect on ovaries. The syndrome stems from a cluster of signs.
A hike in hormones, including androgen or testosterone, can spur acne, lower your voice and lead to unwanted hair on your face and elsewhere.
PCOS also puts you at risk for another condition: metabolic syndrome. Traits include hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, which spikes resistance to insulin.
“Many women with PCOS have metabolic syndrome,” Dr. Bradke says. “It’s not yet determined if one leads to the other or vice versa.”
TWO: Doctors need to rule out other conditions.
Some PCOS symptoms can be due to an underactive thyroid (a gland in your neck) or overactive adrenal glands (above your kidneys) may be at fault. So can the pituitary gland (at the base of your neck), which produces prolactin, the hormone that creates breast milk.
“If the diagnosis is wrong, the syndrome will not improve.”
Blood tests, a pelvic ultrasound and physical exam may confirm the diagnosis of PCOS, which may involve a dozen follicles or a large single follicle.
THREE: Treatment takes time.
“There’s no magic pill or quick fix to resolve PCOS,” he says. Even though genetics may play a role, lifestyle changes such as exercise, weight loss and a healthy diet often help if you have PCOS.
“The more fatty tissue you have, the more insulin-resistant you become and the more androgen may circulate in your body,” Dr. Bradke says. “Weight loss is often the first line of defense, and successful treatment takes time, motivation and the partnership of patients and physicians.”
Your doctor may prescribe drugs that target specific symptoms. Birth control pills help regulate your menstrual cycle, while letrazole, clomiphene and Metformin can propel ovulation and improve fertility.
“PCOS is a medical condition and not your fault,” Dr. Bradke says.
Check with your doctor to learn more.