Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder that affects women in their reproductive years. It is estimated that as many as five to 10 percent of women have PCOS. Many women are not diagnosed with PCOS until their 20s or 30s, but for some women, symptoms can arise as early as their teenage years.
- Irregular menstrual periods. Periods are considered irregular if:
- Cycles are longer than 35 days,
- Less than eight cycles in one year,
- No menstruation for four months or longer, or
- Periods that are prolonged and may be light or heavy
- Difficulty becoming pregnant or infertility
- Weight gain, trouble losing weight or obesity
- Excess hair growth on face, chest, abdomen and/or upper thighs
- Hair loss
- Oily skin and acne
- Patches of thickened, velvety, darkened skin
- Multiple small cysts on the ovaries
- Elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance
- High cholesterol
- Elevated blood pressure
The first step in treating PCOS is to make healthy lifestyle decisions. Exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet, losing weight and quitting smoking can help reduce the symptoms of PCOS. It is important to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and whole grains. Try to limit foods that are high in saturated fats and carbohydrates. Some women with PCOS find that even losing 10 pounds can help regulate their menstrual cycles.
In addition to these lifestyle changes, there are several different medications that can help manage the symptoms of PCOS. Birth control pills can be used to regulate menstrual cycles for women who are not trying to become pregnant. There are also medications that can be used to reduce excessive hair growth if over-the-counter solutions are not sufficient. A diabetes medication, called metformin, can help restore regular cycles and fertility. For women who are having difficulty getting pregnant, fertility medications can help with ovulation. With treatment, women with PCOS are usually able to get pregnant. However, they will have an increased risk of high blood pressure and gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
If you are experiencing some of the symptoms of PCOS, speak to your health care provider. Early diagnosis and treatment of PCOS can help reduce the risk of long-term complications, which include: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and endometrial cancer.
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