Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, affects 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 women of child-bearing age, according to 2010 information from Womenshealth.gov. It most commonly occurs from ages 20 to 30, but it can also occur in teenagers and sometimes in girls as young as 11-years-old. PCOS has no cure; however, treatment and supportive care can help alleviate the symptoms and prevent complications.
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PCOS is defined as hyperandrogenic chronic anovulation, or inability to ovulate because of the overproduction of androgens, which are sometimes called male hormones. The high levels of androgens produce male characteristics such as increased body hair, a deepened voice, and male-pattern baldness in PCOS patients. In addition, androgens prevent ovulation, which in turn leads to irregular or absent periods and infertility. Women with PCOS may have an imbalance of female reproductive hormones including follicle stimulation hormone, or FSH, luteinizing hormone, or LH, estrogen, progesterone and prolactin.
PCOS and Insulin Resistance
You can have PCOS without insulin resistance. However, insulin is often elevated in PCOS, according to labtestsonline.org. About 40 percent of women with PCOS have insulin resistance as measured by the glucose intolerance test, in which the individual is challenged with an oral intake of glucose and the blood glucose is followed over time. With insulin resistance, the blood glucose level remains elevated. The pancreas responds to insulin resistance by producing more insulin. Excess insulin then stimulates the production of androgens and exacerbates PCOS. Obese PCOS patients are more likely to have insulin resistance than the non-obese patients.
PCOS can be treated with the type-2 diabetes drug metformin, which lowers blood glucose by reducing the liver production of glucose and also suppresses androgen production. Metformin is often combined with the drug clomiphene or the hormone FSH to induce ovulation and restore fertility. In addition, birth control pills, which contain the hormone progesterone, can help restore the menstrual cycle. Consult with your physician for the appropriate treatments for you.
Losing just 10 percent of your body weight can restore the ovulation and a menstrual cycle in some women with PCOS. Womenshealth.gov recommends PCOS patients limit their consumption of processed foods and added sugar, and choose more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A healthful diet and exercise can help to normalize insulin production and alleviate the symptoms of PCOS. More importantly, they may reduce the risks of heart disease and type-2 diabetes, which are more likely to occur in women with PCOS.