Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Among women, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common disorder tied to hormones. It can affect your health in many ways — including causing infertility.
If you suspect you have PCOS, Henry Ford Health can help. The experts at our Center for Reproductive Medicine have the expertise to help you identify and successfully manage the condition. We can provide peace of mind – from making an accurate diagnosis to delivering personalized treatment.
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What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome affects androgens, a group of hormones that includes testosterone. While men have higher concentrations of these hormones, women naturally have some, too. With PCOS, androgen levels rise, causing changes to the body.
PCOS usually appears when women are in their 20s and 30s, though it can affect younger women, too. It can cause irregular or missed periods and lead to infertility. Eggs don’t release as they should, making it difficult to get pregnant and potentially forming fluid-filled pockets (cysts) in the ovaries.
We can help all women with PCOS, whether you’re looking to get pregnant or not. Our center partners with Henry Ford endocrinologists and OB-GYNs to provide top care.
What causes PCOS?
While doctors don’t yet fully understand what causes PCOS, there are some potential clues:
- Women with Type 1 diabetes appear to face a higher risk of developing PCOS.
- The condition runs in some families, though researchers haven’t identified genetic changes that may play a role.
- PCOS may develop in women who have a family history of Type 2 diabetes.
What are the health risks of PCOS
PCOS can lead to certain health problems, particularly for women who are overweight. These health problems include:
PCOS also appears tied to mental health, for unknown reasons. Women with the condition may experience:
It’s important to recognize PCOS symptoms and make a doctor’s appointment early on, to control symptoms and protect health. But they’re also challenging to spot. Symptoms may feel mild at first, aren’t always clear-cut and can seem like an occasional part of daily life.
While women often experience several signs of PCOS at once, they may not think those symptoms are connected. But when the signs start adding up, you or your doctor may notice a pattern. Common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Darkening of the skin around neck creases, under the breast and in the groin
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Skin tags (small, excess flaps of skin)
- Thinning of the hair or too much hair in places women don’t usually have a lot
- Weight gain or trouble losing weight
Diagnosing PCOS requires a visit with a doctor. Since there’s no single test to diagnose PCOS, one of our doctors will ask about your symptoms and family history. The doctor will also do a pelvic exam, test hormone levels and blood sugar, and perform an ultrasound.
While there’s no cure for PCOS, we provide a number of effective treatments, tailored to your symptoms and needs. We can relieve symptoms, protect your health and, if desired, help you get pregnant.
Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, such as managing weight. Weight loss can potentially balance hormones and regulate menstrual cycles.
Other lifestyle changes your healthcare provider may recommend include:
- Electrolysis or laser treatment to remove unwanted hair
- Healthy eating
Some women may find medications can help manage PCOS. Your doctor will make recommendations based on your goal:
- To help you get pregnant: Oral letrozole, clomiphene citrate or injected gonadotropins can help stimulate ovulation.
- To provide relief if you don’t need fertility help: Anti-androgens can address unwanted hair, hair loss and acne.
Your doctor may also suggest using in vitro fertilization (IVF) [link to revised IVF page] to help you get pregnant. Many women have successfully given birth with IVF after PCOS treatment.
IVF involves extracting eggs from the ovary and fertilizing them with sperm to form embryos. A doctor places an embryo into your uterus, where it can implant and begin developing.
Surgery for PCOS
If other treatments can’t help, your doctor may recommend a surgery known as ovarian drilling. This treatment uses lasers or fine needles heated with electricity, to make a few small holes in the surface of the ovary. Doing so can restore normal ovulation for six to eight months.