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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): What to Know

If you’re unfamiliar with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, it is a prevalent condition among women that affects their ovaries and menstrual cycle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility, affecting about five million U.S. women of reproductive age. 

Seeing how frequently it is diagnosed in women, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms. Learn more about what PCOS is, its symptoms, and how it can be treated. 

Midwives and PCOS

PCOS is defined as “a condition in which the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens, male sex hormones that are usually present in women in small amounts.” In simpler terms, it is an imbalance of hormones. This imbalance can affect a woman’s ovulation ability, leading to menstrual and fertility problems. 

As certified nurse midwives, we provide primary care for women, emphasizing pregnancy, gynecologic and reproductive health. A significant component of being a midwife is pregnancy planning. Therefore, if a woman is dealing with PCOS while trying to get pregnant, it’s best to seek guidance from their primary care provider. Unrelated to family planning, midwives can also provide care for women dealing with an irregular period from PCOS. 

What Causes PCOS

Unfortunately, there is no exact cause known for why women may have higher androgen levels than usual. However, a few contributing factors have been found. One’s family history and body weight are connected to PCOS. There is a lot of speculation regarding whether being overweight causes PCOS or vice versa. The relationship between the two is not black and white. Studies have found up to 80% of overweight or obese women also have PCOS. Being overweight may increase the risk of getting PCOS; however, many women of average weight have also been diagnosed. 

The CDC states that women with PCOS are often also insulin resistant. Therefore, if there is a family history of diabetes, a woman’s chances of getting PCOS may increase. In addition, women with a direct family member that has PCOS are more at risk. 

Symptoms of PCOS

In most cases, a woman won’t see symptoms of PCOS until her menstrual cycle begins. These symptoms tend to overlap with other gynecological issues, so it’s not uncommon to undergo blood tests or an ultrasound when diagnosing. These are the most common symptoms of PCOS

  • Missed periods or irregular periods
  • Large ovaries or cysts in ovaries
  • Excess body hair
  • Weight gain
  • Acne or oily skin
  • Thinning hair
  • Infertility

The most defining symptoms of PCOS are irregular periods, large polycystic ovaries, and higher androgen levels. A high level of this male hormone is why women may experience excess body hair, acne, and thinning or balding hair typically seen in men. If you’re experiencing multiple of these symptoms, it’s best to consult with your midwife or physician. 

How to Treat PCOS

PCOS does not have a cure, but it is very treatable with medication and a few lifestyle changes. Because there is a strong link between obesity and PCOS, switching to a more active lifestyle and a healthier diet can help alleviate symptoms. 

Your medication for treatment will vary depending on whether or not you’re planning to become pregnant. If you are trying for a family, there are medications to help increase ovulation. On the contrary, some forms of birth control help combat PCOS symptoms. Overall, treating PCOS is an individualized experience depending on your severity of symptoms and plans for the future. 

Get In Touch with a Midwife

Whether or not family planning is in your near future, living with PCOS symptoms can be a stressful, uncomfortable experience. At City of Oaks Midwifery, our goal is to provide personalized care to all of our patients. If you believe you may have PCOS or need treatment after diagnosis, contact us at (919)351-8253 for further assistance.

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