It’s typically believed that around five to ten percent of U.S. women of childbearing age are suffering from PCOS, but it is a lot more than that! PCOS has become one of the most common endocrine disorders in young women which affects reproductive health and fertility when left unmanaged. This condition is most recognized during childbearing (between ages 15 to 44), and most women have PCOS but they are not aware of it.
In this article, we are going to discuss what PCOS is, the changes that your body undergoes when you have PCOS, and some of the common tests that diagnose PCOS.
What is PCOS/ PCOD?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects ovaries that produce hormones such as estrogen and progesterone (the hormones responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle). This causes hormonal imbalance resulting in an altered menstrual cycle, which makes it harder to conceive. Male hormones are also produced at higher than normal amounts.
PCOS also causes unwanted hair to grow on both body and face, androgenic alopecia (male pattern hair loss), and long-term health problems like heart disease and diabetes.
What Happens When You Have PCOS?
In a healthy reproductive cycle, either of the ovaries will release an egg which gets fertilized when it receives the sperm, and if fertilization does not take place, it results in the shedding of the uterus lining which is what we call menstruation. This cycle, which happens once every 25 to 30 days in a female, is called ovulation.
There are two hormones, luteinizing hormone (LH) and Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) produced by the pituitary gland that are responsible for carrying out the ovulation process. The FSH stimulates the ovary to produce a follicle and then LH triggers the ovary to release a mature egg.
But in women with PCOS, many small, fluid-filled sacs called cysts grow inside the ovaries. These cysts are follicles containing an immature egg that does not mature to trigger ovulation.
The lack of ovulation alters the levels of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, LH, and FSH. The progesterone levels become lower than usual and the androgen levels are higher than usual which disrupts the menstrual cycle and causes women to lack periods for several months.
Sometimes women get periods that do not contain the minimum flow and in a few other cases, women get periods with more heavy bleeding than usual.
What Are Some of the Common Tests to Diagnose PCOS?
There is no single test that specifies the diagnosis of PCOS. Your healthcare provider will discuss your symptoms and other medical conditions with you. They may ask you about any weight changes and menstrual periods. A physical exam is done which includes checking for signs such as excess hair growth, acne, and insulin resistance. Your healthcare provider might then recommend some tests such as:
Blood tests measure hormone levels. This test excludes possible causes of androgen excess or menstrual problems that mimic PCOS. You might also have another blood test such as triglyceride levels and fasting cholesterol. A glucose tolerance test can also measure your body's response to sugar.
During the pelvic exam, your healthcare provider checks reproductive organs for mass growth or any other changes.
An ultrasound checks the appearance of your ovaries and the thickness of the lining in the uterus with a wand-like device placed in your vagina. As the device emits sound waves it translates into images on a computer screen. Your uterus lining may be thicker than usual if your periods aren’t happening when they’re supposed to.
Your ovaries can be 1½ to 3 times larger than the normal size when you have PCOS. The ultrasound test also can show ovary changes in about 90% of women who have PCOS.
Let’s end this article here. In the next article, we are going to discuss some of the possible causes, symptoms, and tips to overcome the condition and live a better, healthier, and more fertile life managing the condition.