Did you know that an estimated 7 million women are living with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – yet less than half of them have been diagnosed? Also known as Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, PCOS is one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders in women, and one of the leading causes of infertility. Because symptoms can really vary from woman to woman, and it’s not possible to diagnose the disorder with just one simple test, PCOS is one of the most commonly missed disorders which is why it’s also known as “The Silent Killer.”
The main underlying issue with PSOC is a hormonal imbalance related to a kind of male hormone called androgens. All women produce androgens, but the ovaries of PSOC sufferers over-produce them. Researchers also believe that insulin may be linked to PSOC – women with PCOS tend to have too much insulin, because their bodies have a hard time metabolizing it. There is a link that shows excessive insulin appears to lead to excessive production of androgens.
Recognized and diagnosed only for the past 75 years, the most common effect of PCOS is enlarged ovaries containing small amounts of fluid, called follicles (or cysts), in a “string of pearls” pattern, which can been seen during ultrasound exams. (“Polycystic” means “many cysts.”) However, these follicles don’t present on every woman with PCOS. A common cause of infertility, PCOS can cause infrequent menstrual periods or prolonged periods. This hormonal disorder can also cause insulin resistance (a prime indicator of PCOS), as well as symptoms related to increased testosterone levels, including excessive hair growth (hirsutism), male pattern baldness, and failure to ovulate monthly. Weight gain, difficulty losing weight, and acne are also symptoms.
In teenagers, a warning sign for PCOS is absent or infrequent menstruation. Early diagnosis is important, because PCOS is linked to an increased risk of developing several medical risks, especially if obesity is also a factor – these risks include the development of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and several types of cancer.
Five to 10 percent of women of childbearing age are affected by PCOS, and it’s responsible for 70 percent of infertility issues in women who have difficulty ovulating. PCOS can occur in girls as young as 11, and post-menopausal women can also suffer from PCOS.
There is no cure for PCOS, but the good news is it can be managed and treated to prevent problems, and the health risks can be mitigated.