I've been partnering with The Christ Hospital Health Network for almost 4 years now. It's been a lot of fun and I've learned so much. Recently, I went onto our Q102 and Jeff and Jenn Facebook page to ask you, our wonderful listeners and friends, about some medical topics you'd like to learn more about. I wanted to research some of the things that really mattered to you. When I posted the idea for potential topics, I was so surprised by the amount of people that mentioned PCOS in one way or another. I'm sad to admit that I didn't even know what PCOS was and needed to look up what medical term the letters abbreviated. To understand more about PCOS, what it is, treatments and how it can cause issues with fertility, I reached out to Sarah Bartlett, MD, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Obstetrics & Gynecology.
What is PCOS?
Dr. Bartlett told me that PCOS is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It is a common hormone imbalance experienced by women. Women with PCOS often have irregular or absent periods, signs or symptoms of testosterone excess (things like abnormal lab results, or increased acne or hair growth more than typical for their age or ethnicity) and certain characteristic appearance on a pelvic ultrasound. Symptoms can vary from person to person. Sometimes women just have irregular periods, other times they complain of persistent acne or excess hair. Some women struggle with their weight, finding it easy to gain weight and really hard to lose. They sometimes have infertility, though not always. They also sometimes have metabolic issues including pre-diabetes and increased risk for cardiovascular disease, as well as increased risk for depression.
Diagnosis and Treatment for PCOS
Diagnosing PCOS can be fairly easy. Just have a talk with your doctor because it can be very common although sometimes overlooked. Not all women experience severe symptoms with PCOS and in fact, being on birth control can actually disguise PCOS and its symptoms. After learning more about PCOS, I wanted to know more about the treatments of PCOS and if there is a cure. Dr. Bartlett said that, "Birth control pills can help with the menstrual cycle irregularities as well as skin issues. Progesterone IUDs can help with the menstrual irregularities. Untreated PCOS increases the risk of uterine cancer, so birth control pills and IUDs are very important. Other non-hormonal medications can be used to help counter the acne and excess hair growth." I also learned that even though PCOS can be treated, it never completely goes away so it is never cured. Another way that PCOS can be regulated could be through diet. Following diets like the Mediterranean diet, low carb, low sugar, or even intermittent fasting could be helpful to PCOS patients.
Infertility and PCOS
A part of PCOS is the possibility of infertility. When I asked our online community about PCOS a lot of you talked about challenges with having children after receiving the diagnosis. Dr. Bartlett said, "Women with uncontrolled PCOS frequent have anovulation, or the body doesn't ovulate regularly. This can make it difficult to conceive as the egg is not being released on time or as often as it should. I also tell women, however, it can also make it harder to avoid pregnancy as ovulation prediction becomes nearly impossible. If pregnancy is desired, controlling your weight and normalizing any metabolic issues can be very helpful. Medications such as metformin can help with this. There are also oral pills that can be used to provoke ovulation, thus assisting in reproduction. Some patients will require a referral to an infertility specialist, though not all need this."
After learning all about PCOS, how it's diagnosed, how it causes possible infertility and its treatments, I started to talk to several friends about PCOS and learned that I actually know a lot of women who suffer from this syndrome. One of them has even struggled with fertility. If you think you could have PCOS or if you'd like to talk with Dr. Bartlett, please reach out to her here, or learn more about women's health services at The Christ Hospital.