- Polycystic ovary syndrome, PCOS, is the most common hormonal disorder of women and a common cause of female infertility, but is often misdiagnosed or overlooked.
- One of the most common symptom of PCOS is irregular periods. Other symptoms can include acne, hair loss on the scalp, excess facial or body hair, obesity and infertility.
- There is no cure for PCOS. Treatment is based on symptoms and whether there is a desire for pregnancy.
- Women with PCOS who do conceive are at greater risk of having pregnancy complications, like gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders and miscarriage along with other chronic ailments, like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, endometrial cancer, sleep apnea, depression and anxiety.
Caroline’s mother was concerned when she turned 15 and hadn’t had her first period. It finally came, but it wasn’t until three months later that she’d get her second. Her gynecologist assured her that irregular periods were common for someone her age, so Caroline’s mother didn’t worry. Then, at 18, her periods disappeared for six months. This time, her college ob-gyn said that the stress of college often causes menstrual periods to wane, and that the best treatment was hormonal therapy to make her periods regular. So she started taking birth control pills.
Thirteen years later, she was ready to have a baby and stopped taking them, assuming that since she was older and not under as much stress, her periods would become more regular. But they didn’t. She also noticed increased acne and facial hair. After six months of trying unsuccessfully to conceive, she started taking her temperature and using an ovulation predictor kit. Both revealed that she was ovulating infrequently and irregularly. The question was why?
Many women with irregular periods are told it’s no big deal. Even her acne and facial hair didn’t throw up a red flag. Fortunately, tests eventually led to an accurate diagnosis: she had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that disrupts women’s fertility and may cause a host of other health issues. As many as 15 percent of women between 18 and 45 have PCOS, making it the most common hormonal disorder among women of childbearing age.
For this guide, I reviewed the current literature and interviewed Beth Rackow, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and director of the pediatric and adolescent gynecology program at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.