Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone problem in women, characterised by irregular menstrual cycles and infrequent ovulation in young women. As many as one in six women have PCOS, but many of them do not know it.
If you have PCOS you will often have small cysts on your ovaries, visible with a pelvic ultrasound. These cysts are very small follicles (usually less than 15mm in diameter). They are not tumours or pathological cysts, but physiological cysts related to the hormonal changes you experience with PCOS. They cause no problems and do not need to be removed – they are really just diagnostic markers.
Blood tests are used to confirm a PCOS diagnosis. These will usually show changes in your hormonal patterns, including a slight increase in testosterone and luteinising hormone (LH) levels, or normal levels with increased activity.
The origin of the disorder is similar to that of diabetes. If you have PCOS, in the long term there is a somewhat increased risk that you will develop diabetes.
Symptoms of PCOS
There are various symptoms of PCOS. Imbalances in hormone production may cause you to experience:
- irregular, heavy periods (or no periods at all),
- pain, bloating and tenderness,
- increased hair growth, especially on the face,
- weight gain or difficulty falling pregnant.
Common queries about PCOS
Many women diagnosed with PCOS feel very upset, but there are only really three problems that need to be addressed, and they can all be managed fairly easily.
Firstly, irregular cycles may not be good for your health in the long term, but these can be corrected with hormonal treatment, which has very minimal side effects. If you are not trying to conceive, the contraceptive pill can be used to regulate your periods and protect your uterus from the long-term effects of irregular periods, and also to help reduce acne and facial hair.
Secondly, infrequent ovulation can cause infertility, but this can be treated easily with ovulation inducing medications like clomiphene, or injections of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Once ovulation does occur, women with PCOS usually have a high chance of falling pregnant.
And lastly, making healthy changes to your lifestyle can significantly reduce the future risk of diabetes. For women who are overweight, reducing your body mass index (BMI) is the most common form of treatment and can return your ovulatory cycles to normal.