We’re well into September now and PCOS Awareness Month is in full swing. Every September the women’s health community focuses on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and for good reason. It’s the leading women’s health condition today, with 1 in 5 women living with this condition.
PCOS is also the leading cause of female infertility. Because it’s a chronic hormonal imbalance, PCOS can really do a number on a woman’s ovulation. This can be a problem if you’re trying to get pregnant, because as you know, it’s pretty much near impossible to get pregnant without ovulating.
It’s not all gloom and doom, though. The good news is that reproductive endocrinologists have treatment protocols for PCOS, and many women with PCOS learn to manage their condition and go on to get pregnant.
First, though, you have to know that you have it! How can you know?
Each woman has a different set of symptoms. Here’s a simple set of questions you can ask yourself to see if there’s a possibility you may have PCOS.
- Are your cycles regular? As previously stated, PCOS is a chronic hormonal imbalance, which means that ovulation can be disrupted. If your cycles are regular, this means that your ovulation is proceeding normally, and you’re not at a high risk for having PCOS. If, however, your periods are irregular, meaning they’re really close together OR you can go for a few months in between them, your ovulation is not regular. Something’s going on there and it could be PCOS, or it could be something else.
- Do you have hair changes or excessive hair growth? One characteristic of PCOS is an overproduction of the hormone testosterone. We normally associate testosterone with men, but women produce it too, albeit in smaller amounts, just as men also produce estrogen, a hormone normally associated with women. Women with PCOS simply produce more testosterone than women with more balanced hormone levels. One sign of this overproduction of estrogen is excessive hair growth on the body, for example, above the lip like a mustache, elsewhere on the face, or in the chest area.
- Do you have acne or oily skin? Another manifestation of the overproduction of testosterone is problems with oily skin and acne.
- Are you overweight or do you have trouble managing your weight? Women with PCOS tend to have lowered insulin resistance, resulting in high blood sugar. This makes it difficult for them to manage their weight. If it seems to you like no matter how hard you try, you’re not able to maintain a body weight appropriate for your height, you might get your insulin and blood sugar levels checked, and get checked for PCOS at the same time.
- Does PCOS run in your family? While PCOS isn’t a genetic condition, family history is a risk factor for PCOS. If you or any of your family members have diabetes, you may also be at risk for PCOS.
These questions are not diagnostic, meaning by answering them a certain way you definitely have PCOS. It could be PCOS or it could be something else; the important thing is to see your doctor to find out for sure.
To recap, if you answered “no” to question #1, or “yes” to questions, you may be at risk for PCOS. Another obvious symptom not covered by the questions is the presence of ovarian cysts.
If you have one symptom or many it’s time to take action. Don’t attempt to self-diagnose. If you think you might have PCOS, go to your doctor right away to confirm and get an official diagnosis. Your doctor will be able to develop a treatment plan that makes the most sense for you.
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