PCOS is four little letters, doesn’t seem like such a big deal! In fact, odds are you’ve never even heard of it, right?
Believe it or not… Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal problem in women. It is a metabolic disorder that affects several body systems and can cause significant long-term health consequences such as diabetes and heart disease if left undiagnosed and untreated.
PCOS leaves many women facing daily battles with weight, acne, excess facial hair, infertility, male-patterned baldness, and menstrual irregularities, to mention a few. These symptoms can not only be physically debilitating but also emotionally and psychologically wrenching leaving 34% of patients with depression and 45% with anxiety.
Other symptoms of PCOS, not found in all patients, include enlarged ovaries, with multiple small painless cysts or follicles that form in the ovary. However, the two key features of PCOS are the production of excess androgens (male sex hormones) and anovulation (the failure to ovulate properly), which leads way to many of the PCOS symptoms and their range of severity. It also makes PCOS the number one cause of female infertility!
While many of these symptoms help identify there may be a problem, less than half of those estimated to have PCOS, actually know they have it and have delays in getting a diagnosis because many physicians look at the symptoms individually, rather than as a complete picture. Part of this is because PCOS is not yet fully understood. It is thought that there are several causes, which could explain why different women have such varying symptoms to varying degrees of severity. Furthermore, since many of the symptoms involve a woman’s reproductive system, PCOS is often mistaken for a gynecological disorder. It is, however, a disorder of the endocrine system, involving hormones and hormone production.
Finding the proper PCOS diagnosis can be easy if physicians know what to look for… which is why definitive guidelines are so important! Organizations such as The AES-PCOS Society, AACE, and The Endocrine Society identify these as:
Obtaining blood samples for a variety of hormones, including those produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and thyroid gland.
A full physical examination and screening for cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, and insulin.
Review of family and medical history to identify key genetic and/or environmental factors that may be contributors to PCOS.
An ultrasound to identify follicles/cystic ovaries tg5at follow the “pearl necklace” pattern associated with the syndrome
The mystery has to be solved, due to the fact that PCOS can be associated with a number of serious medical conditions, frequently associated with decreased sensitivity to insulin (i.e., insulin resistance), which in turn leads to PCOS risks as follows:
– 50% of women with PCOS will have diabetes T2D by age 40 due to decreased insulin sensitivity
– Women with PCOS have a seven-fold greater risk for heart disease due to increased cholesterol and triglycerides
– Women with PCOS have a four-fold risk of stroke due to increased blood pressure
– 9% increased risk of endometrial cancer due to excess estrogen production
– High risk for obstructive sleep apnea
There is another factor which impedes PCOS diagnosis…
There is a stigma attached to many of the symptoms of PCOS, which may inhibit a woman from discussing symptoms with her doctor as they cause anxiety. Therefore, public information and awareness about the symptoms and the serious nature of the disorder are crucial to identifying women in need of treatment.
We are at a crucial crossroads with PCOS Awareness…
While there has been an increase in media attention and physician awareness, we are still in the dark ages. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a significant health concern that warrants national attention and government support. Thankfully PCOSChallenge.org is changing this with advocacy efforts with legislators in Washington DC which has led to the Senate and House of Representatives to join in bipartisan legislation that prioritizes PCOS.
Now you can join in be becoming a change maker this September for #PCOSAwarenessMonth by following all the events, posts and fundraisers to advance better understanding of the syndrome.
To see the change we must become the change!
CMA, CST, CSFA
PCOS Patient Advocate
Social Media: @pcosgurlAshley Levinson has been a PCOS Patient Advocate for over 18 years serving her mission to bring more awareness to a syndrome that affects so many and is often misunderstood and dismissed. Her advocacy includes online campaigns #Heart4PCOS and #LemonFaceChallenge which have run over the past three years and engaged thousands online.
She has a background in healthcare as an orthopedic surgical first assist and certified medical assistant and has served as a PCOS Program coordinator for Drexel PCOS Center and volunteer, executive director and advisor to many PCOS, Chronic Illness and Women’s Health Organizations.
She has and continues to advance awareness through social media campaigns, articles, podcasts, and blog posts and has made multiple appearances on television including Discovery Health’s Mystery Diagnosis to advance education about the syndrome. Recently Ashley joined PCOS Challenge in Washinton DC to lobby for legislation to bring more funding and awareness to PCOS and is a finalist for WEGO Health Awards 2018.