Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects millions of women worldwide. Typically, those diagnosed with PCOS have small cysts that form in the ovaries. These cysts produce an excess of reproductive hormones known as androgens, creating an imbalance that can lead to additional health complications. Some women with PCOS do not present with cysts, but will still have high levels of androgens. Understanding the additional ramifications of PCOS is crucial for those attempting to proactively manage their health and improve their quality of life. If you or a loved one suffers from PCOS, here are some additional health complications to remain aware of:
Irregular Periods and Infertility
Unfortunately, the hormonal imbalance caused by PCOS interferes with the growth and release of eggs from the ovaries, and thus causes many women with the condition to stop ovulating, resulting in missed or irregular periods. Without ovulation, it is not possible to become pregnant. That said, women with PCOS are still able to get pregnant, but it may be more difficult. If you have PCOS and have been unable to conceive, talk to your doctor about fertility medication and treatments. If you are unwilling to become pregnant and have PCOS, continue to take precautions such as condoms during sex to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, as there is still a chance conception may occur.
Excess Body Hair and Acne
Androgens, such as testosterone, are hormones that give men their ‘male’ characteristics. Women also produce small amounts of androgens, however, those with PCOS produce excess amounts of these “male” hormones, resulting in increased facial and body hair. High levels of androgens, particularly testosterone, have also been linked to acne and clogged pores. If you are under treatment for PCOS but are still struggling with unwanted changes to your appearance, talk to your doctor about other measures you can take, such as laser hair removal and/or medical treatment for acne.
Insulin Resistance and Weight Gain
Many women with PCOS also experience insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps bring glucose from the bloodstream into your cells after you eat. For those that are insulin resistant, enough insulin is created, however, the body is not using it effectively, resulting in high blood sugar levels. If left untreated, type 2 diabetes and obesity can develop.
If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, your provider can help manage signs of insulin resistance with medication. You may also be able to prevent more serious complications with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Those with PCOS may benefit from a diet that includes whole grains and complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber, as these foods result in more gradual increases in blood sugar levels.
It’s important to remember that PCOS is not a one-size-fits-all condition. Each individual’s experience is unique, and the path to managing PCOS and its complications can be as diverse as the people affected by it. To learn more about how PCOS affects your health, and how to best care for your symptoms, reach out to one of our providers today.