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What Is PCOS And How Is It Treated?

PCOS is one of the most common ovary conditions, affecting millions of women across the world. PCOS causes unpleasant side-effects but is simple to treat. Below we explain what PCOS is and how to treat it.  

PCOS is a common condition that affects women’s ovaries

PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that affects how ovaries work and that afflicts many women. Around 10% of women suffer from PCOS, causing them to experience uncomfortable but treatable medical issues. There are three principle ways women can be affected by PCOS:

  • Irregular periods: Ovaries don’t ovulate correctly
  • Polycystic ovaries: There is an abnormal level of male hormones in the body, leading to an increase in facial and/or body hair
  • Excess androgen: Ovaries increase in size and are filled with sacs containing fluid

Women who have two or more of the three main symptoms of PCOS should speak to a GP, as there is a high chance they are suffering from it.  

How to find out if you have polycystic ovary syndrome

There are three main characteristics of PCOS: irregular periods; polycystic ovaries; excess androgen. Each of these three have associated symptoms and if you show signs of having two of these three you should seek diagnosis from a GP.

A GP will carry out an initial diagnosis to see if you have PCOS. Your doctor will review your medical history, looking at any weight changes and menstrual period issues in your record. You will undertake a physical exam, where your GP will look for excessive hair, signs of acne, and if you have a resistance to insulin. If your doctor believes you may have PCOS they will recommend one of three tests:

  • Blood test: Your blood will be tested to look at your hormone levels
  • Pelvic exam: A GP will look at and inspect your pelvis to see if there are any growths, or anything else unusual  
  • Ultrasound: The thickness and lining of your ovaries are checked

If you are diagnosed with PCOS, you will be recommended one (or more) of three treatments: lifestyle changes; medication; surgery.

You can treat PCOS by making lifestyle changes

Women who have PCOS and are obese or overweight have a greater risk of long-term health issues. If you have PCOS and don’t have a healthy weight, your symptoms could be lessened considerably by losing only 5% of your body weight.

A healthy weight is where you have a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 18.5-24.9 – any lower and you are underweight, any higher and you are overweight. If you are not sure if your what your BMI is and if you are overweight, use a BMI calculator to find out.

Medications you can take to get rid of your PCOS

Losing weight is proven to help reduce the symptoms of PCOS. In order to fully tackle most cases of PCOS, you will need to take a course of medication. The medication used to treat PCOS falls in three categories, based on your symptoms: irregular periods; fertility problems; excess hair.

  • PCOS medication used for irregular periods: You may be advised to to take the contraceptive pill, or a course of progestogen tablets
  • Fertility problems: There are stages of medication available to treat PCOS which causes fertility problems. If the first stage works you do not need the second. However, you continue moving through the stages until a medication does work:
    • 1st stage: clomifene
    • 2nd stage: metformin
    • 3rd stage: letrozole and tamoxifen
    • 4th stage: gonadotrophins
  • Excess hair: There are a few different medications you may be prescribed to treat any excessive hair caused by PCOS:
  • co-cyprindiol
  • Dianette
  • Marvelon Yasmin
  • cyproterone acetate
  • Spironolactone
  • Flutamide
  • finasteride

Taking the correct course of medication (pending on the symptoms) clears many cases of PCOS without the need for surgery.

Surgery used to treat some cases of PCOS fertility issues

PCOS can cause women to have fertility issues, making it difficult for them to get pregnant. Medication can treat many cases of PCOS that lead to problems, but some women may require surgery to deal with their PCOS.

Fertility issues caused by PCOS which have not been cured by medication can be dealt with using minor surgery, called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD). LOD deals with your hormonal imbalances by removing the tissue which creates male hormones, making you fertile again.

PCOS affects one in ten women and can lead to irregular periods, fertility problems, and excess hair (body and facial). If you are one of the 10% women affected by PCOS speak to your GP. PCOS can often be treated simply so don’t suffer its effects and get help from a doctor.

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