What is PCOS? How to Manage PCOS & Get Pregnant
Perhaps you have heard that PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is only a fertility problem and only something to be concerned about when you are ready to attempt pregnancy. The reality is that the effects of PCOS are much more far reaching and left untreated can lead to a myriad of health problems during the course of your life.
The good news: You can successfully manage PCOS and we at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut (RMACT) are here to help!
What is PCOS?
- PCOS is the #1 hormonal disorder of reproductive age women affecting at least 5-10% of all women. While the cause of PCOS is unknown, experts think that several factors including genetics play a role.
- A main underlying problem with PCOS is hormonal imbalance. In women with PCOS, higher levels of androgens (male hormones that females also make in smaller amounts) are present.
- When hormones are out of balance in PCOS, ovulation problems occur. These hormonal imbalances in PCOS can also lead to metabolic problems
What is Necessary for a PCOS Diagnosis?
Women must have 2 out of 3 of the following criteria to have a diagnosis of PCOS: (In exclusion of other diseases that are ruled out by simple, routine blood tests
- Oligo-ovulation or anovulation- not having periods or having long irregular cycles
- Hyperandrogenism- higher than normal levels of testosterone in bloodwork or manifestation of excess testosterone as shown on the skin (acne and/or hirsutism: hair growing in specific places such as upper lip, chin, chest, stomach, back)
- Polycystic ovaries on ultrasound- enlarged ovaries containing many small follicles, often in a pattern that looks like a “string of pearls”
Other Common Symptoms of PCOS
- Women with PCOS often have high LDL “bad” cholesterol levels and low HDL “good” cholesterol levels
- Insulin resistance is not uncommon in women with PCOS. Insulin resistance is a condition in which insulin (a hormone made by that pancreas that allows cells in the body to accept and use glucose for energy) is not working efficiently in the body. Over time, the elevated insulin levels contribute to an increased production of androgens and worsening PCOS symptoms. Eventually, in the case of chronic insulin resistance, blood sugar levels rise leading to a pre diabetic condition and eventually diabetes.
Insulin resistance can be manifested in some of the following ways:
- Carrying excess weight (especially around the stomach), and difficulty losing weight
- Skin tags
- Acanthosis nigricans (dark skin patches, often found on the nape of the neck, groin or under breasts)
Why It Is Important to Diagnose PCOS
As mentioned before, left untreated, PCOS can lead to a variety of health issues including diabetes, obesity, infertility, and a chronic state of inflammation in the body which then leads to many other physical ailments. Notice the chart below:
Managing PCOS is a lifelong commitment and lifestyle modifications are at the heart of management. Consider this: the cost of lifestyle interventions is estimated to be less than the cost of pharmacological intervention. Regular, daily movement in combination with a balanced approach to eating are cornerstones to living a healthy life with PCOS. While it may seem overwhelming to make lifestyle changes, the important thing is to start. Start small. As with any undertaking, consider your motivations for change- a more satisfying and healthier life. What are the things that stand in the way of your desire to initiate changes? Perhaps you don’t know where to start or the thought of lifestyle changes seem daunting. Maybe it seems that you just don’t have enough time to incorporate regular activity into your schedule. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, we are here to help.
At RMACT we combine a thorough medical exam with PCOS specific dietary guidance and counseling for a comprehensive patient experience. While the Meet-Up on April 29th will discuss supplements and the newest research in further detail, I want to include a word about supplements here in light of the recent investigation that exposed fraudulent supplements inseveral national retailers.
A Word About Supplements
When considering taking supplements to help with PCOS, use extreme caution. You may have heard of the recent New York Attorney General’s investigation and exposure of some major national retailers who were selling fraudulent and potentially dangerous supplements. The concern over product purity and quality has long been a concern of health experts. Thankfully at RMACT, our Nutritionists- Carolyn Gundell, MS and Jill Hickey, RDN- have done extensive research to ensure that any of the supplements recommended and offered in our office are known for their product safety, quality, and purity.
We wish you success as you start or continue your journey with PCOS. You are not alone. You can make the changes necessary to live a healthier, happier, and more satisfying life. And we are here to help!
About Ellie Downs, RN
Ellie is an RN with nearly 10 years of experience in Women's Health related fields. After spending 3 years as a labor and delivery nurse in South Carolina, Ellie and her husband moved to NYC where she spent 3 years working at a well-known fertility center. After another move and after taking some time off after her first child, Ellie joined the RMACT team in 2012 where she has been involved with the PCOS program as well as with patient education related to preconception and early pregnancy health and wellness. Personally and professionally health, wellness, and an active lifestyle are Ellie's passions.