September 1 is World PCOS Day, and the whole month of September is dedicated to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Awareness. The goal of recognizing this common disorder is to improve the lives of women affected by PCOS through shared experiences, research, and discussions on treatment options. We’re following suit and in response to a reader’s request, we’re dedicating this post to an overview of PCOS and its treatment.
Approximately five million women have PCOS, though many are undiagnosed. While this typically has the greatest impact on women in their reproductive years, the condition can continue throughout women’s lives. This is particularly true for women with obesity, which strongly linked to infertility and PCOS. Women with obesity and PCOS have higher pregnancy and delivery risks and also are much more likely to develop gestational and/or type 2 diabetes, with 50 percent of women with PCOS developing type 2 diabetes by the time they are 40-years old.
Possible Causes & Health Issues Associated with PCOS
The causes of PCOS are not clear but weight, family history, higher levels of insulin (which contributes to the likelihood of diabetes) and higher levels of certain reproductive hormones definitely play a role. Some women have more obvious symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles or changes to skin, including acne, darkening color or excess hair. Other women show no signs. Most women learn they have PCOS when they try to become pregnant, but it’s possible that they have had it since their first period.
There are other health issues associated with PCOS, among them high blood pressure and high cholesterol, sleep apnea, anxiety and depression. However, many people with obesity — female and male — experience these conditions so it is not clear if PCOS causes these problems, or if these problems contribute to PCOS.
PCOS, Pregnancy & Weight Loss
The reason PCOS affects the ability to become pregnant is because it interferes with the growth and release of a woman’s eggs and if there are no eggs, there can be no fertilization, which means no pregnancy. While there is no cure for PCOS, the good news is that it can be treated and symptoms can be managed so that it is possible to become pregnant and carry a child to full term.
One of the best ways to reduce risks during pregnancy is to lose weight before conceiving because many obesity-related conditions that affect pregnancy, including insulin resistance, are reversible. Research also finds that pre-pregnancy weight loss, or between pregnancy weight loss can increase fertility and the likelihood to become pregnant and decrease gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, which is characterized by very high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Physician Consultation and Diagnosis
Let your doctor know if you think you might have PCOS. She’ll do an exam and likely order a sonogram and blood tests. If the diagnosis is confirmed, you can discuss whether or not you want to become pregnant at some point and how to address any health issues and symptoms that may be related to PCOS. This may include medications to help regulate your menstrual cycle, control diabetes and address any hormonal side effects. Your doctor can also offer insights on in vitro fertilization or surgery as pregnancy options.
In short, PCOS is a serious and common condition, but very treatable. Weight loss is among the best options for ensuring a healthy pregnancy, but your doctor is the best person to assess your specific situation and to help you come up with a plan to treat your symptoms, become pregnant or both.
About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.