Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a medical condition that causes multiple cysts to form in the ovaries of the female reproductive tract. PCOS may affect a woman's menstrual cycle, hormones, circulatory system including blood vessels and appearance. It can also affect her ability to have children. Women with PCOS typically have high levels of androgens, or male hormones, and low levels of female hormones such as estrogen. The main types of treatment are medications aimed at balancing the hormones.
PCOS is thought to be caused by genetics, but may also be caused by insulin resistance.
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Symptoms of PCOS
Symptoms of the disease include missing or irregular menstrual periods, hirsutism (overgrowth of hair on the face, hand, feet or back), diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure and cholesterol. Treatment of PCOS is focused on restoring normal menstruation, reducing the symptoms of excess male hormones and treating specific symptoms, such as facial hair, acne and obesity.
Birth Control Pills
To correct the balance of female hormones, doctors traditionally recommend oral contraceptives (birth control pills) to treat menstrual irregularity associated with PCOS. Because oral contraceptives contain both estrogen and progesterone, women using them correctly are more likely to have a monthly menstrual period. Additionally, because regular menstruation causes the endometrial lining to be shed regularly, the risk for endometrial cancer is reduced.
Because many of the visible effects of PCOS are due to an excess of male hormones, doctors often treat the syndrome with high doses of anti-androgenic medication, which reduces the production of hormones such as testosterone. Testosterone is associated with an increase in body hair, abdominal obesity and acne.
Treating Insulin Resistance
Clinical studies supported by the National Institutes of Health have found a link between PCOS and high levels of insulin in the blood. High levels of insulin increase the production of testosterone, the hormone responsible for suppressing menstruation. Lowering insulin level, and thus testosterone, help diminish many PCOS symptoms such as facial hair, obesity and may even reduce cardiovascular risk. The drug Metformin (also known as Glucophage) can lower insulin levels, as can reducing the number of starches and sugar in the diet.
Treating Specific Symptoms
Specific symptoms like facial hair can be controlled by electrolysis, while acne can be treated with topical or systemic medication. Obesity can be managed by diet and exercise, while infertility can be treated with fertility drugs.