Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), also known by the name Stein-Leventhal syndrome, is a hormonal problem that causes women to have a variety of symptoms. It should be noted that most women with the condition have a number of small cysts in the ovaries. PCOS occurs in 5% to 10% of women and is the most common cause of infertility in women. Women of all ethnicities may be affected.
The principle sign of PCOS are related to menstrual disturbances and elevated levels of male hormones (androgens).
- PCOS is an illness characterized by irregular or no periods, acne, obesity and excess hair growth
- Women with PCOS are at a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure & heart disease
- Main signs & symptoms are related to menstrual disturbances & elevated levels of male hormones
- With proper treatment, risks can be minimized.
PCOS signs and symptoms include:
- weight gain
- elevated insulin levels
- oily skin
- excess hair growth (hirsutism)
- male pattern hair growth
- skin discolorations
- high cholesterol levels
- elevated blood pressure
- multiple small cysts in the ovaries
No one is quite sure what causes PCOS, and it is likely to be the result of a number of both genetic (inherited) as well as environmental factors. Women with PCOS often have a mother or sister with the condition.
PCOS diagnosis is generally made through clinical signs and symptoms. The doctor will want to exclude other illnesses that have similar features, such as low thyroid hormone blood levels (hypothyroidism) or elevated levels of a milk-producing hormone (prolactin).
Treatment of PCOS depends partially on the woman’s stage of life. For younger women who desire birth control, the birth control pill, especially those with low androgenic (male hormone-like) side effects can cause regular periods and prevent the risk of uterine cancer. Another option is intermittent therapy with the hormone progesterone. Progesterone therapy will induce menstrual periods and reduce the risk of uterine cancer, but will not provide contraceptive protection.
For acne or excess hair growth, a water pill (diuretic) called spironolactone (Aldactone) may be prescribed to help reverse these problems. The use of spironolactone requires occasional monitoring of blood tests because of its potential effect on the blood potassium levels and kidney function.
Eflornithine (Vaniqa) is a cream medication that can be used to slow facial hair growth in women. If you are looking for a permanent hair removal method, electrolysis is the only options for controlling excess hair growth.
Electrolysis is FDA approved as the ONLY permanent hair removal method and it will remove your unwanted hair permanently! But remember, with PCOS your hormones can stimulate dormant hair follicles thus you may need regular visits to keep on top of it.
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR