10% of women have PCOS. Half of them don't even know. Do you?

September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Month! PCOS is a hormonal, reproductive disorder that affects 1 in 10 million women of childbearing age. But half of women do not even know they have it. They may suffer with the classic symptoms- weight gain, acne, irregular or non-existent periods, excessive hair growth in unwanted places, and infertility- without realizing they have the condition. There are some other subtle symptoms, including weight gain in the abdomen, a waist of more than 35 inches, and even a dark ring around the neck or in creases from the skin from insulin resistance. Yet, some women may experience no symptoms at all!

The exact cause is multi-factorial with various environmental and hereditary factors fostering its development. However, we know that a disorder of the androgen hormones is present in women with PCOS.

There is no one test for PCOS. However, a fertility specialist can diagnose PCOS based on your gynecological history, an ultrasound to count the baseline number of follicles on your ovaries, and a blood test to check your hormones, including AMH, thyroid and pituitary function. Egg-Q measures AMH levels and we have had a large number of patients find out they have PCOS by taking our test. While Egg-Q normally checks for women who have abnormally low levels of AMH, discovering high levels of AMH is a red flag, and usually indicates PCOS.

While there is no cure for PCOS, it can be treated.

  • Weight loss with a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise can have a positive effect on the endocrine system, particularly in cases when a woman is overweight or obese.
  • Birth control pills can be prescribed to correct the hormone imbalance and lower the testosterone, generally improving acne and unwanted hair and regulating your period.
  • Additionally, Metformin, a medication that helps regulate blood sugar is sometimes prescribed in conjunction with birth control pills or on its own for women who are diabetic or pre-diabetic.

If you are planning a family, there is good news! Women with PCOS tend to have a higher ovarian reserve, which means you may have a longer reproductive life and reach menopause later in life. Also, if you were to undergo IVF treatment, you may have a larger number of eggs harvested. Many women worry about their fertility potential because of a PCOS diagnosis. However, if you are not ovulating regularly due to PCOS and are not overweight, most of the time a healthy pregnancy can be achieved easily and inexpensively with an oral ovulation induction medication.

Dr. Sinem Karipcin contributed to this blog. Dr. Karipcin is a Board certified Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Specialist, practicing at Conceptions Florida in Miami.