Polycystic Ovary Syndrome also known as PCOS, is a condition which increases the production of male hormones causing an imbalance in hormone levels for women who are affected. This in turn can have an impact on the menstrual cycle, reducing the number or frequency of periods and making it harder to conceive.
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
Follicles (or fluid filled sacs) are matured every menstrual cycle and one is released at the time of ovulation, however those living with PCOS have a much higher number of maturing follicles than normal.
These can appear to look like a string of pearls on ultrasound examination.
This overproduction has the opposite effect than would be expected. There is actually a lower chance of ovulating than usual, which has the effect of reducing a woman’s fertility.
Our doctors are some of the leading PCOS specialists in the UK and can diagnose and help you manage your condition.
How common is PCOS
Around 3 in every 20 women experience symptoms as a result of the increased number of follicles in their ovaries.
Research shows that around 30% of women of reproductive age have polycystic ovaries. Around half of these will actually go on to have symptoms as a result.
Although this is a very high proportion of the population, thankfully for most the symptoms are mild.
Do I have PCOS?
Living with PCOS means different things to different people, however the condition can often leads to visible symptoms such as acne and increased hair growth as well as issues surrounding fertility.
To be clinically diagnosed with the condition you must meet at least 2 of the 3 following requirements:
1. Irregular or no menstruation. Other causes must be excluded first.
2. Polycystic ovaries detected on ultrasound.
3. Symptoms of elevated male hormones such as excess hair gain or loss, acne and high serum testosterone. Again other causes must be excluded.
PCOS Hair Loss
PCOS can cause the overproduction of the male hormone androgen which sometimes leads to scalp hair loss and excess hair on other parts of the body for sufferers.
Some women report pelvic pain, bloating or painful periods as a result of PCOS. However these symptoms can also be a result of other underlying conditions and it is always worth consulting your doctor to diagnose the exact cause of the symptoms.
While there may not be a cure for PCOS, through years of experience our consultants have refined their treatment recommendations and tailor them to each patient’s specific needs.
If PCOS is found to be the cause of poor health we have a number of specialists able to provide guidance on each aspect of your treatment to manage your symptoms in the best way possible.
Medications that may be offered include:
Topical symptom control
There are many over-the-counter formulations available which can be confusing when self-caring for your skin. Our dermatologists will choose the right combination for you, whether to control acne or help reduce hair growth.
Depending on the severity of your condition, our clinicians may decide that oral medication including antibiotics is the best option for you if other acne treatments have failed.
To help treat the root cause of your symptoms medication called antiandrogens are available. The oral contraceptive pill is used to both regulate your menstrual cycle and fight acne symptoms. If you are unable to take hormonal medication, alternatives such as the blood pressure medication spironolactone may be used.
What are antiandrogens?
All antiandrogens act upon male hormones known as androgens. These drugs reduce the release or impact of testosterone in your body. Non-hormonal options such as Metformin or Spironolactone are available.
Your consultant will assess and discuss your results with you before any decisions regarding treatment are reached.
What can I do at home?
PCOS can have a wide-ranging impact on your overall physical and mental health. One of the best self-help treatments possible is eating healthily and losing weight. Being overweight will worsen the symptoms of PCOS.
Weight loss can help promote ovulation, regulate your hormones and protect against the effects of anxiety and depression.
Regular exercise has been found to reduce stress, increase weight loss and speed up the body’s metabolism – all positive when looking to manage polycystic ovary syndrome.
If you have successfully lost weight but continue to not have periods we may be able to offer metformin to help start the menstrual cycle.
For those trying to conceive there are several fertility medications that can be utilised to help promote ovulation.
Surgery is not a common treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome. If both you and your clinician agree that current treatments have failed to adequately control symptoms, then referral to a surgeon may be the right choice.
A keyhole procedure called a laparoscopic ovarian drilling, produces tiny holes in each ovary. This has the effect of reducing the overall amount of ovarian tissue in your body. Hormonal balance is more likely to be achieved, which in turn can see the reintroduction of a natural hormonal cycle and ovulation.
Gastric band surgery can also be an option for those struggling to lose weight. Remember that surgical options are usually reserved for when medical interventions have been exhausted.