Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Do I Have it, How Do I Get Diagnosed, and How Do I Manage It?
Dr. Kathryn Dinh, a board-eligible Endocrinologist at Galen Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology
According to the CDC, approximately 5 million women are currently affected by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormonal disorder that is primarily associated with a female having infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods. It is one of the most common causes of infertility in women and is a lifelong health condition.
What causes PCOS?
Although the exact cause of PCOS is not presently known, excess weight and a family history of PCOS are associated with having this syndrome. The signs and symptoms of PCOS usually appear during adolescence. While symptoms of PCOS can vary, two of these three traits are manifest in females affected by PCOS:
- Irregular Periods
- Periods that are infrequent or prolonged.
- Excess Androgens
- Elevated levels of the androgen hormones, such as testosterone, may result in physical changes including unwanted facial or body hair and severe acne.
- Polycystic Ovaries or infertility
- Ovaries may be enlarged and contain more follicles than expected. This is diagnosed with imaging.
- A history of infertility or difficulty getting pregnant
Other symptoms may include weight gain, skin tags, dark or thick skin patches at the base of the neck, armpits and beneath the breasts, or a history of diabetes.
How does one get diagnosed with PCOS?
Currently there is no test to definitively diagnose a female with PCOS. However, if you think you may have two or more of the above traits a thorough evaluation is needed by a doctor to determine whether your signs or symptoms represent PCOS. This evaluation includes completing a history and physical exam where your doctor will check for signs of excess hair growth, insulin resistance, and acne. If the history and exam are consistent with PCOS, your doctor could recommend you have a pelvic exam, blood tests, or an ultrasound of the ovaries and uterus to confirm their suspicions. In some cases, you may need to see an endocrinologist for additional evaluation, to confirm the diagnosis, or assist with management.
Associated Health Risks
Females with PCOS are at increased risk for several major health issues. Many of these issues stem from having increased insulin resistance, which means the body can make insulin, but it can’t use it efficiently. Those with PCOS should be monitored for:
- Type 2 Diabetes and Gestational Diabetes
- Heart Disease
- High Blood Pressure
- High bad cholesterol and low good cholesterol
- Sleep apnea
- Metabolic Associated Fatty Liver Disease
Before Your Appointment
Now that you have a general overview of what PCOS is, the process for diagnosing PCOS, and treatment options, we have a list of things below that you can do to prepare for your appointment.
- Write down all the symptoms you are having and how long you have been experiencing them.
- Track your menstrual periods, if not already doing so, and bring this calendar to your visit.
- Provide a list of all medications, vitamins, and supplements you are currently taking.
- Prepare a list of questions you want to ask your doctor. Here are some basic questions to consider:
- What tests do you recommend?
- Does PCOS affect my ability to get pregnant?
- What medications would you recommend that might improve my symptoms or ability to conceive?
- Are there any long-term health implications caused by PCOS?
At Galen Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, our goal is to help you manage your PCOS symptoms so you can live a full and happy life. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, please schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified physicians today. Call (423) 954-9010 to schedule your appointment.