Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a complex hormone disorder that affects as many as 5 to 10 percent of all women.
This means that anywhere between five and ten million women in the U.S. live with PCOS, including girls as young as 11 years old and women who are going through menopause. PCOS can be found in women of all races and ethnic groups throughout the world, although it tends to be more common in women of Mediterranean descent.
The syndrome is named for the cysts that may form in the ovaries when hormone imbalance interrupts the ovulation process. The term polycystic means “composed of many cysts.” The cysts are small, fluid-filled sacs inside the ovaries.
Once a woman is diagnosed, she will need to manage the symptoms for the rest of her life. At New York Fertility Services, we have a specialized PCOS clinic that treats many women in the New York area with the condition.
How PCOS Affects Women’s Health
The hormone imbalance typical to PCOS can affect many different areas of women’s health, including:
Menstrual cycle – Women with PCOS often have irregular or missed periods.
Ability to have children – Because of the hormonal imbalance, women’s reproductive systems can malfunction and cause infertility.
Hormones – PCOS often causes high levels of androgens, which are known as male hormones (though healthy women make them in small quantities.)
Heart – Women with PCOS have higher rates of heart attacks than women of the same age without PCOS.
Blood vessels – PCOS is associated with an increased chance of high blood pressure.
Appearance – Excessive hair growth and acne are examples of how PCOS can affect appearance. Women with PCOS also often experience unexplained weight gain.
Mental health – Some women affected by PCOS might experience depression related to their health or fertility issues.
Please see our special section on PCOS and Depression for more information.
How PCOS Is Diagnosed
Since PCOS is a complex hormone disorder, there is no single test to show that you have it. Instead, your doctor will conduct a comprehensive evaluation that includes several steps:
- Medical history – Your fertility doctor will ask about your menstrual periods, weight changes and other symptoms that are typically related to PCOS.
- Physical exam – Your blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and waist size will all be measured. Any areas of increased hair growth will also be examined.
- Pelvic exam – Your fertility doctor or obgyn might conduct a pelvic exam to feel if your ovaries are enlarged or swollen by the increased number of small cysts.
- Blood tests – Your doctor may check the hormone and sugar (glucose) levels in your blood.
- Vaginal ultrasound – An ultrasound is often helpful to examine your ovaries for cysts and check your uterine lining. When a woman stops having her periods because of PCOS or another cause, the uterine lining typically gets thicker.
The First Step Is Finding Out if You Are Affected by PCOS
If PCOS hormone imbalance is left untreated, it may lead to life-threatening illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and uterine and endometrial cancers. If you suspect that you might have PCOS, you should make an appointment with a trusted physician who specializes in the condition.
New York Fertility Services Treats PCOS
It’s important to remember that with PCOS treatment, many women lead full, active lives, including starting families. At New York Fertility Services, our goal is to provide comprehensive individualized care for all women with PCOS, including women seeking fertility assistance. Contact us to schedule an appointment at our specialized PCOS clinic led by Dr. Joel Batzofin to discuss your condition and targeted treatment for life as well as fertility.