Although polycystic ovary syndrome is a serious medical condition that requires diagnosis and treatment by a medical professional, understanding the symptoms and causes will make you more informed when you talk to your doctor. Since polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormone imbalance, the symptoms can be very obvious. Still, some women have the disease and exhibit few or none of the symptoms, so regular consultation with a doctor is always recommended. Many women with polycystic ovary syndrome are able to lead normal, healthy lives, but there are some health considerations that you should be aware of, such as the potential development of diabetes or other serious conditions.
An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac on the ovary that is usually harmless. They form when follicles, the sacs that contain eggs, do not mature correctly and are not released from the ovaries. They are occasionally painful but sometimes go unnoticed until a woman has a pelvic exam. Many women with polycystic ovary syndrome do not have ovarian cysts at all. Depending on the age and symptoms of the patient, and also the size and type of cyst, surgery to remove the cyst may be necessary in some cases.
Because polycystic ovary syndrome is the result of a hormone imbalance, typical symptoms are irregular periods, hirsutism (unusual hair growth on face or other parts of body), chronic acne, weight gain, and patches of dark skin on the neck or other areas. Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have polycystic ovary syndrome, so check with your doctor to be sure.
The exact cause of polycystic ovary syndrome is unknown. The disease affects hormone cycles, so scientists believe that the problem lies somewhere in the chain of events that leads to the production of estrogen and progesterone, the female sex hormones. Normally, the pituitary gland in the brain produces certain hormones that cause the ovaries to make estrogen and progesterone (and also a small amount of the male sex hormone, testosterone). It is an imbalance in this production cycle that leads to polycystic ovary syndrome. Women who have polycystic ovary syndrome often have a mother or sister with the syndrome, but there is no proof so far that the disease is hereditary.
Since there is no cure for polycystic ovary syndrome, treatment is generally geared towards alleviating and minimizing the symptoms. If a woman does not want to become pregnant, birth control pills might be prescribed in order to regulate abnormal menstrual cycles. If a woman does want to become pregnant, fertility medications may be prescribed. Also, anti-androgens (to treat any symptoms caused by extra male hormones) may clear up acne and minimize abnormal hair growth.
Polycystic ovary syndrome can lead to an increased risk of developing life-threatening health problems such as diabetes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Doctors may recommend lifestyle changes (dieting, exercise, etc.) in order to lower the chance of developing these serious problems. Also, women may suffer emotional effects due to embarrassment about acne and hirsutism.
If you believe you might be exhibiting symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, consult your doctor immediately. If you have already been diagnosed with the disease, there are support groups that can help with psychological issues, as well as groups aimed at increasing public awareness. Although polycystic ovary syndrome is a serious medical condition, early diagnosis and proper medical care will help those who suffer from this disease to live normal, healthy lives.