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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): Hiding in Plain Sight?
By Deepali Patni, M.D., F.A.C.O.G.
Some medical conditions exhibit symptoms that are very recognizable, making those conditions faster and easier to diagnose and begin treatment. But what if you're exhibiting symptoms of a disorder that seem like they're common day-to-day maladies? This can make disorders like PCOS, a prevalent, long-term disorder, harder to diagnose and treat. What's worse, sometimes the symptoms of PCOS can cause additional, serious risk factors for patients.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a condition that stems from a hormonal imbalance in women. With PCOS, the body produces higher-than-average levels of male hormones called androgens. This can cause an array of symptoms, many of which can also be dismissed as side effects of a regular period. An estimated one in 10 women have PCOS, but physicians believe about half of those cases go undiagnosed.
Common Symptoms Mask Serious Conditions
Many of the symptoms of PCOS are common symptoms that women experience apart from having the disorder. Some of those symptoms are:
- Excess weight - There are so many reasons a person could be carrying excess weight, but women with PCOS who are battling weight tend to carry it around their midsection.
- Hair loss - Because of the androgens, it is possible that women with PCOS may experience hair loss.
- Hair growth - Hair growth spurred by PCOS tends to follow male-pattern hair growth, especially on the face.
- Acne - The surge in hormones means that many women experience problems with acne.
- Infertility - It is believed that PCOS is responsible for nearly 70 percent of all infertility problems related to women.
- Pelvic pain - Often thought to be simply period-related cramps, women with PCOS tend to experience more pelvic and abdominal pain that normal.
- Irregular periods - Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can cause irregular periods. This means that you can have periods late or infrequently or skip months all together.
Take note of all of your symptoms, even if you don't think they're important. Oftentimes doctors are able to investigate and diagnose PCOS by taking multiple symptoms into account.
Dangerous Symptoms Can Put You at Risk
The symptoms of PCOS can be bad enough on their own, but when you put two or three of them together, it has the potential to do serious damage to your health. These are a few of the risk factors associated with having PCOS:
- Anxiety and depression - Studies have shown that there is a higher incidence of anxiety and depression in women with PCOS. This has the potential to stem from both the hormone imbalance and the other irregularities (acne, hair growth, hair loss, weight gain) that polycystic ovarian syndrome causes to the body.
- Diabetes - Many women with PCOS also have diabetes, and studies on the relationship between insulin and PCOS are being conducted now. There is currently evidence that high levels of insulin contribute to increased production of androgen, which makes the symptoms of PCOS worse.
- Heart attacks - Women with PCOS have been found to be four to seven times higher for a risk of heart attacks.
- High blood pressure - Many women with PCOS have been found to have high blood pressure, which can be a catalyst for stroke or heart attacks.
- Higher rate of miscarriages and gestational diabetes - While the link between PCOS and infertility has been evident for a while, physicians have since noted a higher rate of problems maintaining a healthy pregnancy in patients with PCOS.
- Higher risk of certain afflictions and diseases - Sleep apnea, endometrial cancer, and liver disease have been found in higher instances in patients with PCOS.
Talk to Your Doctor
Unfortunately, there isn't a cure for PCOS, but once a physician knows that polycystic ovarian syndrome is the issue afflicting you, he or she will be able to better treat the symptoms and avoid future health complications from PCOS.
An exercise and weight loss program is typically part of the regimen, and if you're trying to get pregnant but are having trouble with fertility, your physician can begin to help you with that as well. Another way to combat the disorder is typically with medications. These medications can be used to treat acute symptoms or the long-term health consequences of PCOS. If you have any question as to whether you might have PCOS, the best thing to do is keep an accurate record of your symptoms and report them to your doctor when you make an appointment.