Millions of women in the U.S. are affected by PCOS every year — a hormonal disorder that can affect menstruation and fertility. While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, it can affect women of all races and ethnicities and impacts women after puberty and during child bearing years.
Effects of PCOS
PCOS typically means that your body has higher levels of androgen (male hormones) that can change whether your body ovulates regularly and normally. This can lead to infertility, irregular periods, prolonged periods, polycystic ovaries (ovarian cysts) and more. Increased androgen levels can cause facial hair, male pattern baldness and severe acne. PCOS can also make the body become insulin resistant, which can lead to weight gain and a higher risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Although there’s no cure for PCOS, there are several treatment options available that can help alleviate symptoms, including dietary changes, medication and surgery.
Half of women who have PCOS will develop diabetes by the time they’re 40. Because PCOS can make you resistant to insulin, maintaining a diet that’s low in sugar, fat and carbohydrates is often recommended. Talk to your doctor to see what diet changes may be helpful.
Another approach to treating PCOS is medication. Oral contraceptives are a common (and often first-line) treatment prescribed by doctors. Birth control helps regulate periods and reduce the flow of heavy periods, which is one of the most common and aggravating symptoms of PCOS. Metformin — a drug most commonly used to help lower risk for type 2 diabetes is also prescribed at times.
Surgery is generally a last resort, and used only in severe cases or when other treatments have failed. Laparoscopic ovarian drilling removes small parts in the ovaries, and generally leads to more regular ovulation — and thus more regular menstrual cycles.
PCOS can be frustrating to tackle alone, and not all treatments will work for everybody. You need a provider you can trust, and someone who can listen to your unique needs. The team of women’s health specialists at El Camino Health are equipped with the expertise to treat PCOS and other conditions specific to women.
This article first appeared in the September 2021 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.