Polycystic Ovarian (Ovary) Syndrome also known as PCOS is a hormonal disorder that causes irregular or unusual menstrual periods due to high levels of androgens (male hormones). The name suggests that women with PCOS have multiple cysts on their ovaries, however not all women who have multiple cysts have PCOS and not all women who have PCOS have cysts. The “cysts” are not actually cysts, but rather partially formed follicles which contain an egg.
PCOS can be a complex condition to identify as it presents in a variety of symptoms – and you don’t need to have all of them to be diagnosed with it. Some women will only have a few, or mild symptoms, whereas others will have severe symptoms.
What are the symptoms?
Many symptoms of PCOS are caused by high levels of androgens which prevent ovulation and affect the menstrual cycle.
- Irregular, infrequent, heavier than usual or the absence of periods.
- Immature ovarian eggs that do not ovulate.
- Multiple cysts on your ovaries.
- Difficulty falling pregnant or reduced fertility.
- Excess facial and/or body hair.
- Hair loss.
- Darkened skin patches.
- Mood swings, depression or anxiety.
- Sleep apnoea.
Who is affected by it?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome affects 12-18% of Newcastle women of reproductive age, and up to 21% in some high-risk groups, such as Indigenous women.
While the cause of PCOS is unknown, studies have shown a connection with family history, insulin resistance and lifestyle or environment.
Women with PCOS are also at a higher risk of developing additional health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and blood fat abnormalities, Cardiovascular disease (heart disease, heart attacks or stroke) and Endometrial cancer.
How is it diagnosed?
To make a correct diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, other conditions affecting menstruation need to be ruled out.
If you have two or more of the following, a diagnosis of PCOS can be made:
- 12 or more follicles are visible on one ovary or the size of either one or both ovaries is increased.
- High levels of androgens (male hormones) in the blood.
- Excess hair growth or acne.
- Menstrual dysfunction, i.e. irregular periods, lack of periods, lack of ovulation.
During your consultation, Dr Ljiljana will discuss and review your medical history and assess your physical symptoms, weight and BMI (Body Mass Index). She will also do an ultrasound of the uterus, ovaries and pelvis.
Dr Ljiljana may send you for blood tests to assess the levels of androgens in your body.
If you are taking an oral contraceptive, it is not possible to accurately measure androgen and other hormone levels. You may be required to stop taking your oral contraceptive for 3 months to test successfully.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome treatments
Dr Ljiljana will discuss and tailor a treatment plan that suits your individual situation.
Management and treatment of PCOS can include a healthy approach to diet and physical activity, medications, surgical options or IVF.