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by David Ahdoot, MD, FACOG

What Is PCOS?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a female reproductive disorder caused by hormonal imbalance. PCOS sufferers have unusually high androgen levels (a male hormone). These extra male hormones prevent the ovaries from creating the female hormone (progesterone) that is necessary for menstruation to take place regularly.

What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?

The most obvious symptom of PCOS for many women is a lack of periods or a significantly reduced amount of periods. This reduced menstruation, known as “oligomenorrhea,” is more common. Some women never experience periods at all due to PCOS, a condition called amenorrhea. The majority of women suffering from PCOS develop small ovarian cysts. The cysts develop because follicles have grown to maturity in the ovary, but they are not released as they normally would with proper hormone balance. These cysts may build up, causing the ovaries to enlarge dramatically.

How Can PCOS Be Treated?

While a cure for PCOS does not currently exist, the patient’s doctor can help her with managing the symptoms with great success. For women who are not trying to conceive a baby, birth control pills are often the best way to get the menstrual cycle properly regulated. Birth control pills also help by bringing down the overly high level of androgen in the body. Another treatment that is currently being used in some PCOS patients is a diabetes medication called Metformin. This type of medication may have the side benefits of regulating ovulation and controlling abnormal hair growth caused by male hormone imbalance. PCOS patients who are attempting to conceive a child can often use fertility drugs to stimulate ovulation. A healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet and regular exercise, is useful for many PCOS sufferers because it keeps glucose under control and helps the body regulate its insulin more effectively. This, in turn, may help normal ovulation begin.

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