Understanding and Managing a Common Hormonal Disorder
You may have heard the term "PCOS" in various conversations surrounding women's health issues over the years. PCOS is short for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a challenging yet often misunderstood and misdiagnosed condition that affects over 5 million women in the U.S. alone.
Let's take a closer look at PCOS and what it means for women's reproductive care in 2023 and beyond.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a condition that stems from a hormonal imbalance in the ovaries, where certain hormones called androgens are produced in excess. This hormonal disruption can cause irregular menstrual cycles, missed periods, unpredictable ovulation patterns, overproduction of testosterone, or the development of insulin resistance.
Common symptoms of PCOS include:
Missed, irregular, or unusually heavy or light periods
Ovaries that are larger than typical or prone to cysts
Growth of excess body hair, particularly on the chest, stomach, or back
Weight gain, particularly on the abdomen, and difficulties with weight loss
Oily or acne-prone skin
High blood sugar or irregular insulin levels
Skin darkening or patches on the body, particularly in the armpits, under the breasts, on the neck, or in the groin
Diagnosing the Condition
While the symptoms of PCOS can already be uncomfortable or isolating by themselves, another common challenge of the disorder is how often it goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. PCOS can present a bundle of hard-to-nail-down symptoms that may be explained away as a "bad cycle" or misdiagnosed as endometriosis, so getting real answers can be a lengthy and challenging process for women.
If you're being evaluated for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), it's typically confirmed after other causes of similar symptoms have been ruled out. For a diagnosis, exam results will likely need to meet at least two out of the following three criteria:
You experience irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles, indicating that your ovaries may not be ovulating consistently.
Your blood tests show elevated levels of androgens, like testosterone, or you may show physical signs of excess androgens, even if your blood test results are within normal limits.
Your imaging studies reveal the presence of polycystic ovaries.
A pelvic exam, ultrasound, and blood tests—combined with an evaluation of symptoms and medical history—will likely be used to complete the patient's diagnosis and determine a care plan.
Who is Affected by PCOS?
PCOS affects approximately 5 - 10 percent of females in their reproductive years, typically between the ages of 15 and 44. Most diagnoses occur during a woman's 20s or 30s, often prompted by fertility complications that lead them to seek medical advice. However, the onset of PCOS can occur anytime post-puberty.
The risk of developing PCOS is not confined to any specific race or ethnicity and represents a universal health concern for women.
Certain factors, however, can increase the likelihood of developing this condition, including
Familial history of PCOS
PCOS and Fertility
One of PCOS's most commonly discussed aspects is its potential impact on fertility if left unchecked. PCOS can cause a decrease in estrogen production, often known as the "female" hormone, and an increase in the production of androgens, or "male" hormones. This imbalance of hormones can then result in inconsistent menstrual cycles due to infrequent or even absent ovulation. And without regular ovulation or menstrual cycles, conception becomes much more challenging.
The good news is that many women with PCOS can still conceive with the help of medication, lifestyle changes, fertility treatments, or other medical intervention.
But PCOS isn't just about fertility challenges; it can also lead to other health complications.
Other Complications of PCOS
There may be a tendency among women to suffer in silence when dealing with the symptoms of PCOS, endometriosis, or other conditions that are more specific to women or reproductive health. But the fact is, PCOS isn't just a condition that can hamper a woman's ability to get pregnant.
Women with PCOS are overall more likely to develop more serious conditions over time, including:
High blood pressure
Type 2 diabetes
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms related to PCOS, get evaluated or encourage her to do so. Yes, your menstrual cycle can sometimes be uncomfortable, stressful, or mildly inconsistent, but it shouldn't be painful or severe enough to keep you from maintaining your typical habits or lifestyle.
Treatment and Management Options
The good news is that while PCOS itself can't be cured, care and symptom management options are available. Countless women with PCOS go on to live healthy, active lives through a combination of habit changes, medication, and/or mental health support. PCOS treatment plans often depend on the patient's specific symptoms and reproductive goals, but it's a challenge that can be effectively handled with the guidance of a healthcare provider.
PCOS and Healthcare Needs
Suppose you or someone in your family has been diagnosed with PCOS. In that case, it may be beneficial to re-evaluate the treatment and medication options available within your current healthcare policy, whether it's an employer-sponsored plan or one you purchased from the ACA Marketplace or a private provider.
Upgrading your health insurance plan after a PCOS diagnosis can potentially help keep costs more consistent and manageable, ensure that you're eligible for the coverage you'll need, and assure that you can see the medical providers who can help you. If you need help figuring out where to start, Trusted Referral Network can match you with a licensed, pre-qualified expert to provide a free and confidential consultation.
Nailing down your health insurance needs after a new diagnosis is an often overlooked but helpful step in assuring peace of mind and support when needed. We've got your back.
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