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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a health condition that affects a woman's hormones. Symptoms may initially appear mild, but they can eventually interfere with fertility or cause other problems in the advanced stages. Changes in hormone levels often indicate the presence of PCOS, which is sometimes hereditary. Multiple tests help to confirm a diagnosis. Treatment often includes medications in addition to lifestyle changes.
Hormones normally act as "chemical messengers" by traveling from the organs to the cells within the body to spur energy and growth production. Regular hormone levels signal the release of other hormones, which influence normal menstrual cycles and ovulation. By contrast, PCOS causes hormone imbalances, which may cause problems with menstruation and fertility.
Depending on the person, PCOS symptoms vary from minor to posing serious health effects. Some of the most common PCOS symptoms include acne, thinning hair, and excess body and facial hair. A woman may also be experiencing PCOS if she gains weight easily, and has difficulty in losing it. Skin problems may also surface as a sign of polycystic ovary syndrome. Examples include the development of skin tags, or darkening around the skin folds, underarms, neck, or groin area.
Polycystic ovary syndrome may cause additional symptoms that can also affect a woman's menstrual cycle, fertility, and well-being. Another common PCOS symptom includes irregular menstrual cycles. Some women with PCOS may have no menstrual periods, while others may have nine or fewer periods per year. Still, some women with PCOS symptoms may experience heavy bleeding during a menstrual cycle.
Infertility can also result from polycystic ovary syndrome. PCOS interferes with the woman's ability to ovulate, or form eggs necessary to conceive a child. Dealing with PCOS symptoms may ultimately impact a woman's self esteem, thereby leading to depression and mood swings, according to medical sources.
Without the appropriate treatment, PCOS symptoms carry their share of risk factors for developing other health complications. For instance, some women may develop diabetes because PCOS causes the body to resist insulin. Given the problems with ovulation and menstruation, the lining of the uterus may start to thicken rather than shed normally. In this case, PCOS left untreated may lead to cancer of the uterus. High blood pressure, heart disease, and sleep apnea are also considered to be risk factors as a result of having PCOS.
Fluctuations in hormone levels and family history often cause PCOS symptoms. Small, harmless cysts form on the woman's ovaries, hence the name polycystic ovary syndrome. These cysts act as the culprits for hormone imbalances that cause PCOS symptoms. Heredity also tends to cause PCOS if women from the mother's or father's side of the family have experienced PCOS or associated risk factors like diabetes.
An endocrinologist, obstetrician, or a gynecologist can evaluate and diagnose polycystic ovary syndrome. The doctor may ask questions related to medical history, including any skin and weight changes, as well as family history of hormone-related problems. The physical exam usually checks the patient's body mass index, thyroid, breasts, abdomen, skin, and hair. Lab tests also help to detect PCOS by checking for high blood sugar, high androgen levels, or high lipid levels. Blood tests check for insulin levels, adrenal gland problems, and an overactive or underactive thyroid, all of which are associated with PCOS.
Weight control as well as hormone-balancing medicines help to control PCOS symptoms. Medical resources recommend that the patient gets regular exercise and eats a healthful diet to lose weight and stave off long-term health effects like heart disease and diabetes. Birth control pills reportedly reduce acne, facial hair, and regulate the menstrual cycle. Metformin, a diabetes drug, and other fertility medications can also help with restoring menstrual periods and becoming pregnant. Creams, waxes, shaving, and laser treatments provide at least a temporary fix for getting rid of unwanted hair, while over-the-counter and prescription acne medicines can clear the skin.
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