September is PCOS Awareness Month. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder leading to enlarged ovaries with numerous small cysts. This disorder can cause serious health issues in women and girls such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, endometrial cancer, and female infertility. Austin female fertility specialist and a leading PCOS expert, Dr. Maya Barsky, provides her answers to some PCOS questions:
Question: Are there telltale signs of PCOS?
Answer: PCOS has such a wide spectrum. If you met a patient with PCOS you have met just one patient. Women can have signs of hyperandrogenemia meaning elevated androgens, male-dominant hormones. This would mean increased facial hair, acne, hair midline on the belly. Many women are overweight or obese but about a third are lean. So when I hear, well she doesn’t look like a PCOS patient, I am not surprised.
Question: Would it be too early for girls and teens to seek medical help to diagnose PCOS?
Answer: The earlier we diagnose PCOS the better. PCOS predisposes women to have insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, or even endometrial cancer. The earlier we can intervene the better. However, it is a very tough diagnosis to make in teens as many of the criteria we look for are common in all teenagers. Having a high index of suspicion is key here.
Question: If PCOS is an underlying cause for female fertility, how long do you expect patient treatment to last?
Answer: PCOS is not something you can get rid of. It is something that you would have to work on for your entire life with lifestyle changes, exercising and eating healthy. Protecting the endometrium is also important, so once a patient is done with fertility treatment or childbearing it is important to keep the endometrium thin through hormonal treatment for those that don’t get menses frequently. Fertility treatment for PCOS is varied and the length of treatment is also very individualized.