Understanding Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Maternity Care

Tammy George

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone condition which causes high levels of insulin or male hormones called androgens. PCOS affects 12%-18% of women of reproductive age and can run in the family however a large number of cases can go undiagnosed.  

Polycystic means ‘many cysts’ and refers to women with PCOS having enlarged ovaries containing small cysts. The cysts aren’t harmful and don’t need to be removed.  

Symptoms of PCOS

Women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome may experience one or more of the following:

  • irregular menstrual cycles – menstruation may be less or more frequent due to less frequent ovulation (production of an egg)
  • amenorrhoea (no menstrual cycle) for months or even years
  • excessive facial or body hair
  • acne
  • obesity
  • reduced fertility
  • anxiety, depression, fluctuating moods
  • obesity
  • sleep apnoea
  • hair thinning
  • skin tags or patches of dark skin

Treatment of PCOS

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a long-term condition with long-term treatment required. But first, to diagnose PCOS a doctor may ask you about your medical history, conduct an ultrasound and test the hormone levels in your blood.

The oral contraceptive pill may be prescribed to treat irregular periods and reduce hair growth and acne, medications can be prescribed to block testosterone, lower insulin levels and treat infertility if you are trying to fall pregnant.

Lifestyle changes may also be recommended such as increasing physical activity and eating a healthy diet to reduce weight. Even small reductions in weight have shown to improve symptoms in some women.

You may need to seek treatment from several health professionals including a GP, an endocrinologist for hormone issues, a gynaecologist for fertility treatment, a dietician, exercise physiologist and psychologist.  

Without treatment women with PCOS are at risk of a number of long-term health risks including insulin resistance, diabetes, cholesterol abnormalities, endometrial cancer and cardiovascular disease. Having regular tests and taking medications as prescribed can reduce the risks.

Tammy George

Please note: Tammy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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