Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal disorders, affecting one in ten women. PCOS is caused by hormonal imbalances that create abnormalities in your ovaries and can develop at any age after you reach puberty. Women of all races and ethnicities are at risk of PCOS, though your risk may be higher if you have a relative with the condition.
PCOS can have several long-term effects impacting a woman’s quality of life. Some of these symptoms and complications are directly caused by PCOS while others are very closely linked to women who have it.
Annie Ressalam, MD, an internal medicine physician with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group, says PCOS makes it harder for your body to turn insulin into energy and can cause metabolism problems. “Insulin resistance and metabolism problems are why half of women with PCOS experience weight gain and usually have a harder time losing it,” she says.
Women with PCOS may also have higher levels of the male reproductive hormone androgen. This can cause physical effects such as unwanted hair growth on your face, back, chest, abdomen and other places. You could also experience hair loss. Acne, skin tags, dark skin patches and other skin changes are also common.
Irregular Menstrual Cycles
It’s not unusual for women with PCOS to miss their periods or have more periods than usual. Unpredictable periods can make it more difficult for you to get pregnant. “Irregular periods can also lead to the development of fluid-filled cysts in your ovaries,” Dr. Ressalam says.
Mental Health Changes
Depression, anxiety and mood swings are more common in women with PCOS. “While the link exists, researchers are not clear on whether these emotional changes are the result of hormonal changes or other factors,” Dr. Ressalam says.
Other Health Risks
This condition usually affects many systems in your body, so all symptoms may not go away by the end of your reproductive years. Dr. Ressalam points out that while many premenopausal women with PCOS notice that their cycles become more regular, they may be at increased risk of other serious conditions such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
There is not one test to diagnose PCOS. Your primary care physician or OBGYN will evaluate your symptoms and recommend certain tests to make a diagnosis. “If your doctor suspects you have PCOS, they may recommend a pelvic exam, blood test or a transvaginal ultrasound to check the appearance of your ovaries and the thickness of your uterine lining. After performing some or most of these exams, your doctor can usually make a diagnosis and help with treatment options that best fit your needs,” Dr. Ressalam says.
Even though there is no cure for PCOS, Dr. Ressalam says there are several treatment options available to ease your symptoms and improve your quality of life. “For changes caused by hormonal imbalances, your doctor may recommend birth control pills, or other medications to decrease your androgen production. If you are thinking about having a child, your doctor can help you come up with a plan to get pregnant,” she says. “For any emotional changes associated with PCOS, traditional therapy, hormonal treatments or antidepressants may help you feel better. Maintaining a healthy weight, limiting your carbohydrate intake and being physically active can increase your insulin levels, help you maintain a healthy body weight and lower your long-term risk for heart disease.”