Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common reproductive endocrine disorder in women, affecting approximately 4-12% of reproductive age women. It is found in both normal weight and overweight/obese women. There is some evidence of a genetic predisposition to developing PCOS, as first-degree relatives of PCOS women are at a significant risk. PCOS is thought to be caused by alterations in ovarian hormone production which creates an increase in male hormones. These hormones disrupt the feedback system to the brain and also result in insulin resistance. The menstrual cycle of a woman with PCOS is often anovulatory, meaning an egg is not released each month. Therefore, PCOS is a common cause of female infertility.
PCOS symptoms include a history of irregular menstruation, varying degrees of male pattern hair growth (hirsutism), and acne. Menstrual changes can range from irregular, infrequent, to even absent menstrual bleeding. As the time between periods increases so does the risk for developing uterine cancer. Therefore, women with irregular cycles should consult their gynecologist so they may be properly evaluated for these potential conditions. There is also evidence that PCOS is associated with several long-term health risks, including the development of diabetes, dyslipidemia, and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it is recommended that women with PCOS be screened at regular intervals for these disorders, so that early intervention can be implemented.
Women with PCOS can have a difficult time conceiving. Using fertility medications can improve their chances of ovulation and achieving a pregnancy. When abnormal hair growth is the primary concern, oral contraceptives may be effective, while the addition of anti-androgen medications directly inhibit hair growth. In the case of insulin resistance, the use of metformin may be indicated to help restore normal glucose parameters. PCOS can affect many facets of a woman’s health. It is important that patients be educated about the implications of this condition, and that proper evaluation and care is implemented by their provider.
Alan Martinez, M.D.
Reproductive Science Center of NJ
Eatontown | Toms River | Lawrenceville
732-918-2500 | www.fertilitynj.com