Polycystic ovary syndrome

This syndrome is one of the leading causes of infertility yet the chances are you’ve never even heard of it.

As many as 1 in 20 women suffer from this condition not to mention those who remain undiagnosed. It’s effects on the body include increased facial and body hair, acne on the face, chest and back, tendency to be overweight and irregular or absent periods all due to the increased amount of the male hormone testosterone in the system. Risks involved with this condition include an increased likelihood of developing diabetes, heart disease, strokes, uterine and breast cancer.

Women are born with approximately 4 million eggs in their ovaries, as they mature past puberty the ovaries will release one of these eggs every month. In Polycystic ovary syndrome, it is thought the egg remains behind and forms a fluid filled cyst rather than being expelled into the uterus as normal. The cause of the syndrome isn’t yet fully understood.

Recent studies have shown a high incidence of insulin resistance in women with PCOS (click here for more on Insulin resistance). Insulin is the hormone responsible for getting sugar, in the form of glucose, into our cells. If someone is insulin resistant, their cells may respond sluggishly to the insulin in their body and the body produces more insulin to compensate. There is some suggestion that as much as 10 to 15% of the adult population is insulin resistant to some degree. Insulin resistance is thought to be a precursor to type two diabetes, non-insulin dependent, in later life.

Many women with PCOS are overweight, but there is some confusion as to which causes which. Speaking as a sufferer of PCOS I can say my periods were irregular from the very outset and have remained so, regardless of my weight at the time. I consider myself very lucky indeed to have still had two children avoiding the infertility this condition can cause. Effects, of course, differ dramatically from one patient to the next.

There is treatment available, however and new advances are being made all the time. The most common treatment is to use birth control pills such as Diane 35, or other drugs such as spironalactone to regulate periods and reduce the production of excess hair and acne. This can only control the growth of new hair because once a follicle has been stimulated to produce hair, it is difficult to stop it. Many other drugs are available to help in the case of a woman wishing to conceive. For instance the fertility drug clomid may be used in conjunction with other drugs that control the androgens or male hormone in the body.

New evidence has found that some of the drugs which are used in diabetes also have the effect of controlling all the symptoms of PCOS. This is probably the most exciting developement so far because of the long term problems it can reduce or solve.

PCOS can be diagnosed quite simply with a blood test or an ultrasound scan, and since so many treatments are now available, it is well worth while to discuss it with your GP if you think you have the symptoms.

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