Polycystic Ovaries

Q. What does it mean to have polycystic ovaries?

A. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common disorder of the sex hormones affecting women of reproductive age. Many women develop abnormal, enlarged ovaries with multiple tiny cysts, thus the term “polycystic ovaries.” PCOS is associated with problems such as infrequent or prolonged menses, difficulty getting pregnant, unwanted body changes including acne, obesity and excessive hair growth, as well as potential, serious medical problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Many of these findings are caused by changes in hormones, including slightly elevated male hormones called androgens, and difficulty utilizing insulin, known as insulin resistance. To diagnose PCOS, a doctor will take a careful medical and menstrual history, administer a physical examination, and order lab tests (such as blood sugar, insulin and other hormone levels) and possibly an ultrasonography. Menstrual regulation may require birth control pills, progesterone or Metformin. Ovulation or infertility problems may require medications such as Clomid and possibly surgery. Excessive hair growth may require medications, including birth control pills, Spironolactone and Vaniqua, hair removers or electrolysis. Weight control, exercise and dietary modification are key steps in managing PCOS. Your doctor will target treatment based on your plans for pregnancy and the severity of your symptoms.

James T. Nunally, Jr., M.D., F.A.C.O.G.

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