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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): A Common Cause of Infertility

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Several Ways to Treat a Syndrome that Affects all Women

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

A Case of Polycystic Ovary SyndromePam Schaier is getting married in two months, and like most brides-to-be, she talks about having children. However, because of her Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, this may not be a possibility.

PCOS, which is more common than many women realize, is described as a condition in which a woman has an imbalance of a female sex hormones, which may lead to menstrual cycle changes, cysts in the ovaries, trouble getting pregnant and other health changes, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Schaier has experienced most of these symptoms, as well as others including depression, overactive sex drive and acne. Dr. Anthony Petracca, M.D., attributes many of these issues to excess androgen, which is a male-type hormone. This can cause such problems as excessive hair growth or, on the other end of the spectrum, male pattern baldness.

Petracca typically finds PCOS in overweight women, usually in their early 20s to mid 30s, who come to see him with irregular periods. Schaier says this is one of the biggest ways the disorder affects her.

“Your hormones are all over the place because your body isn’t regular, so you can have your period for six months or on and off for a year. Or, you can not have it for nine months straight and then think you’re pregnant. It affects your hormones, which affects everything else in your life,” Schaier says.

However, Schaier was diagnosed by a dermatologist rather than a gynecologist or primary physician. “When I was 18 I was having a lot of skin problems and my dermatologist brought it to my attention that she thought it might be PCOS, so she sent me for lab work.”

Both Schaier and Petracca point out the similarities between PCOS and diabetes.

“On laboratory testing these women are often insulin resistant, meaning they make insulin but it doesn’t work right, and that’s what happens in a lot of type 2 diabetics,” Petracca says.

Metformin, a drug that is often prescribed to diabetics, can also help women with PCOS become more fertile and also lose weight. Birth control pills, as well, can be used to regulate a women’s cycle, but they prevent pregnancy, which defeats the purpose of those trying to conceive.

Schaier adds that losing weight is the number-one lifestyle change doctors will suggest to patients with PCOS.

“Not everybody with PCOS is overweight; some people are underweight, but the majority of people are considered obese. Losing 10 percent of your body weight can rid you of 70 percent of your symptoms,” Schaier says.

PCOS has become more prevalent recently, Petracca says, as obesity in younger women has increased.

Though the actual cause of PCOS is unknown, it is thought to be a little genetic. Schaier knows of at least one other woman in her family with the syndrome. In discussing her symptoms with female acquaintances, she has met surprisingly many others who have the disorder.

“You find out that a lot of people have it, but a lot of people don’t talk about it, or don’t even know about it because even a lot of doctors don’t know about it,” Schaier says.

Schaier sees a lot of women with PCOS who are not educated about it, and therefore ignore it until it becomes a problem. When they want to have a baby, for example, they think they can simply take medicine to fix things, which is contrary to reality.  She says even doctors are often in the dark about PCOS, and though patients might be best off with an endocrinologist, they need to find out things for themselves.

“You really have to push your doctor to take a lot of tests to help yourself.  Unless you become self-educated, you’re not going to learn a lot,” Schaier stresses.

Jaime Thomas is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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