PCOS Common Signs and Symptoms:
Excessive abdominal weight
Heavy, irregular, or absent periods (amenorrhea)
Difficulty losing weight
Episodes of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
Intense carbohydrate cravings
Problems with excessive hair growth on face or chest
Dirty looking patches of skin
A family history of PCOS
The cause of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is unknown, although there does appear to be a strong genetic component. PCOS is an endocrine disorder characterized by high levels of androgens and is also associated with insulin resistance.
Androgens are male hormones such as testosterone, which occur naturally in all females. High levels however, can be a sign of PCOS, which can be indicated by physical signs such as hirsutism which is excess hair on face, chest, or back; thinning of hair at the crown, acne, and abdominal fat.
Insulin is the hormone involved in the process of moving blood glucose, the body’s main source of fuel, from the blood stream into the cells where it can be used for energy. Insulin resistance occurs when the body does not use insulin as effectively as it should, the cells are less sensitive to insulin, and the pancreas has to pump out more to get the job done. Long term, when the pancreas can no longer keep up, it results in the development of diabetes.
If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of this disorder, it is important that you be fully evaluated by a primary care provider who has experience with PCOS. A complete medical history will be important for diagnosis and treatment, to address the possible complications including insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, infertility, high blood pressure, and cardiac disease.
A physical exam and detailed history will be performed, and the following lab tests may be used to confirm diagnosis and monitor symptoms:
Total testosterone, which measures the total amount that your body produces.
Elevated levels are >50 ng/dl
Leutinizing hormone (LH), which plays a role in egg development
Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which is responsible for the release of eggs from the ovary
Prolactin, a test which is used to rule out pituitary issues
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) used to assess thyroid function
Fasting blood glucose, which can indicate problems with insulin resistance
Fasting lipid profile, including total cholesterol, HDL and LDL, triglycerides
Occasionally, ultrasounds are performed to check for the existence of cysts on the ovary. Though the presence of ovarian cysts is responsible for the name of this syndrome, cysts on the ovaries are not necessary to a diagnosis of PCOS.
Next: Part 3 of 3- What to do about PCOS; Treatment options?
Jennie Wade, MS, MEd, RD, LD