ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Month (PCOS). It’s one of the most common causes of infertility, but it’s a lot more than that. This lifelong health condition continues far beyond the child-bearing years.
PCOS is a disorder marked by a hormone imbalance with symptoms ranging from excess hair growth and acne to menstrual irregularity and fertility problems.
“It can be really distressing and it can be really difficult because for some reason your ovaries just aren’t working quite the way they should,” said Dr. Cassandra Denefrio. Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Albany Medical Center.
Dr. Denefrio says abnormal levels of male hormones prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs normally and sometimes, cysts build up in the ovaries.
“It can present in a lot of different ways and different women so that’s why sometimes it’s a little bit hard to parse out what’s going on,” she said.
Diagnosis is done through a pelvic ultrasound, sometimes a blood test, and by assessing the symptoms.
“Some people think, ‘well I’ve always had an abnormal period, that’s just my normal.’ There can certainly be a lot of reasons why it may not be diagnosed until later on.”
There is no cure for PCOS. The goal is to control the symptoms and manage the risk of long-term health complications like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, endometrial cancer, and infertility.
“Treatments that we have help manage them ok it’s not going to get rid of everything.”
The mainstay of treatment is birth control, which can regulate periods, and help with hair growth and acne.
“There’s a lot of studies going on of what exactly is this cause because we don’t know, it multifactorial.”
While the cause is unknown, PCOS can run in families and is associated with obesity. Dr. Denefrio says even a modest amount of weight loss can help.
“So 5% or 10% of their current weight can be helpful. That can actually help reestablish normal cycles and helps control some of the other symptoms as well,” she said.
Women with PCOS are often insulin resistant. More than half develop type 2 diabetes by age 40. With this connection, experts recommend that women with PCOS get routinely screened for type 2 diabetes earlier and more often than those without.