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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Nearly 1 in every 10 teenage girls and women of childbearing age will be diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). And, more than half of those diagnosed didn't know they had it, according to the PCOS Awareness Association.

What is PCOS?

"Polycystic" means many fluid-filled sacs, or cysts. PCOS involves elevated levels of male hormones, like testosterone, small cysts in the ovaries and heavy, irregular or absent menstrual cycles.

Although the cysts themselves are harmless, PCOS can cause infertility and increase a woman’s risk of developing uterine cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Excessive weight gain can also worsen the symptoms of PCOS.

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PCOS symptoms and risks

Many PCOS symptoms are easily overlooked or attributed to other things. Most commonly, patients first notice irregular menstrual cycles, lack of menstruation, acne, male pattern hair growth, infertility or weight gain.

  • Women with PCOS may have no periods, irregular periods or very long periods. Irregular periods may be a sign the ovaries are not releasing an egg each month.

  • PCOS can cause painful periods with heavy bleeding. This can cause additional issues, such as anemia, and is often unpleasant and even scary.

  • Adult acne can be a sign that your reproductive hormones are out of balance.

  • Hair grows in places that should not have hair – like the chin, back or chest. This kind of hair growth could mean too many male hormones are being produced.

  • Male-pattern baldness or hair loss may indicate you have a higher level of male reproductive hormones, which is a sign of PCOS.

  • You might find you can't lose weight or have an extremely hard time losing weight. This is often due to insulin resistance, where the body does not respond to insulin, a hormone that keeps blood sugar in normal range.

  • Because of the hormonal imbalance, you also have a higher risk for depression, anxiety and extreme or rapid changes in mood.

  • PCOS is a common cause of infertility in women. You may have trouble becoming pregnant if you ovulate irregularly or not at all. For this reason, timing intercourse with ovulation predictor kits may not work. Instead, you may benefit from fertility treatments like IVF.

You are more likely to have PCOS if you have an immediate family member – a mother or sister – who has it. PCOS can also be associated with insulin resistance.

PCOS diagnosis and screening

Your doctor will start with a physical exam and discuss your symptoms. Then, blood tests may be ordered to check blood glucose levels, cholesterol and male hormone levels (if needed). Finally, an ultrasound may be used to see if there are cysts on your ovaries.

These tests will be used to exclude other causes of your symptoms, such as thyroid disease, prolactin disorders, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, primary ovarian failure or Cushing syndrome.

PCOS treatment

PCOS can be treated in a variety of ways. Depending on your situation, your doctor may start by recommending lifestyle changes aimed at losing weight. This can include diet, exercise, weight loss medications and other lifestyle changes.

It is also very common to treat PCOS with birth control pills, progestin, diabetes medication or other hormone treatments.

You may also want to treat PCOS symptoms, like acne, or explore fertility treatments with specialists.

If you are diagnosed with PCOS, it’s recommended to get annual diabetes and cholesterol screenings.

Why choose us for PCOS

Women with PCOS are at a higher risk of many related conditions:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Diabetes (Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes)
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Infertility
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Uterine cancer

As part of an academic medical center, The University of Kansas Health System has a collaborative network of physicians who work together to treat your condition. Within OB-GYN you can work with the OB-GYN weight management clinic and reproductive specialists to focus on PCOS treatments at each stage of pregnancy, from preconception to postpartum, to decrease risks associated with PCOS. OB-GYN specialists also manage PCOS symptoms such as hyperandrogenism and menstrual disorders.

We also focus on prevention of endometrial cancer and collaborate with gynecological oncology to provide seamless care for our patients. You may also get treatment from many other specialists at the health system, including:

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