Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month: September

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome – or PCOS as it is more commonly called – contributes to a range of health problems in women, including being one of the most common causes of infertility. Yet, so many women do not know about this disease or that it can be managed with the right diagnosis and treatment.

During PCOS Awareness Month, individuals and organizations around the world come together in solidarity to promote PCOS awareness and support the millions of women impacted by PCOS worldwide.

According to the National Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association, which started PCOS Awareness Month in the US, PCOS is one of the most common human disorders. It is also the most common endocrine (hormone) disorder and cause of infertility in women, affecting up to 15% of women in the US and over 20% of women in other parts of the world. An estimated 50% of women with PCOS are undiagnosed.

PCOS Awareness Month is now a federally designated event observed around the world. It promotes supporting resources, information and events, with the aim to help improve the lives of those affected by PCOS; to help them to find treatment for their symptoms; and to prevent and reduce their risks for life-threatening related conditions. You can read more about PCOS Awareness Month here.

In September, our team at Cape Fertility Clinic supports Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS Awareness Month by sharing answers to some of the most common questions our patients ask.

What is PCOS?

The name ‘polycystic ovarian syndrome’ is very frightening to hear, because it sounds as if it refers to cysts, which is misleading. PCOS fortunately does NOT mean there are cysts on the ovaries.

In simple terms, PCOS affects the little follicles in the ovaries in which potential eggs await the right hormonal signals to grow, after which they are released during ovulation. With PCOS, the little follicles are not stimulated to grow and to release every month.

PCOS is actually an endocrine (hormone) disease of the ovaries. It is a genetic disease and runs in families, and it is also a chronic medical condition for which there is no known cure. However, like other chronic medical problems such as asthma or diabetes, it can be well managed over the long term.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

It is important to note that PCOS can affect different women in different ways.

However, below are listed some of the most experienced symptoms of PCOS.

* Problems with ovulation
* No menstruation or irregular menstruation
* Prolonged, heavy menstruation
* Recurrent miscarriages
* Infertility
* Skin problems
* Acne
* Unwanted and abnormal hair growth
* Excess weight, rapid weight gain and difficulty in losing weight
* Health problems associated weight issues
* Problems with sugar metabolism and insulin levels
* Cholesterol
* High blood pressure.
* Obstructive sleep apnea

Not all women experience all the symptoms or in the same way. For example, some patients don’t have any problems with their period, while others don’t struggle with weight problems, and others don’t have acne or excess hair. In medical circles, specialists refer to this as the different phenotypes of polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Also bear in mind that some of these symptoms may be caused by a condition other than PCOS.

Do I have PCOS?

The only way to know for certain whether you have PCOS is to undergo the necessary tests and investigations at an accredited and recognised clinic, where a fertility specialist with state-of-the-art equipment and years of experience will be able to make a professional diagnosis.

When diagnosing PCOS, our fertility experts at Cape Fertility use what is called the ‘Rotterdam’ criteria. These are three different criteria for qualifying symptoms and results of the tests and investigations to determine if a woman has PCOS. If the results of the tests and investigations meet two of the three criteria, a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome is considered.

The first investigation is your menstrual cycle; the second is looking for excess androgen levels, clinically and through blood tests; and the third is a state-of-the-art ultrasound scan that allow our fertility specialists to look at the little follicles and to count them on both ovaries.

You can read more about how PCOS is diagnosed here.

How is PCOS treated?

As mentioned, PCOS is actually an endocrine (hormone) disease of the ovaries. It is also a genetic disease that runs in families.

Although PCOS is a chronic medical condition for which there is as yet no known cure, it can be well managed over the long term like other chronic medical problems such as asthma or diabetes.

This means that even if you are diagnosed with PCOS, you are not destined to be struggling with ovulation problems, excess weight, unwanted hair growth, problem skin or infertility. These and all the other health problems associated with PCOS can fortunately be managed very effectively with the right diagnosis and treatment, and it is even possible to achieve a pregnancy.

Weight loss is a cornerstone in the treatment of PCOS, and is beneficial both to prevent long term health problems and to increase the chance of conception. In fact, studies have shown that losing 5% of body weight is often enough to make a significant difference to PCOS symptoms, and will also increase the chance of conception. Certain fertility drugs are also effective for many of the symptoms of PCOS, but this treatment should only be offered by qualified and registered medical specialists and must be monitored very carefully.

You can read more about the treatment options we recommend for PCOS at Cape Fertility here.

There are also treatments that will help you to fall pregnant even though you have PCOS.

When trying to fall pregnant when you have PCOS, ovulation is the main issue that needs to be addressed, because you cannot fall pregnant naturally if you are not ovulating. The treatment options available for PCOS that will also help you ovulate include specific medications available in tablet form, and there are also injections available, which might be prescribed by your fertility specialist with tablets or on its own.

If you have PCOS and are taking medications to improve your chances of falling pregnant, it is crucial to rely on the expertise and experience of a qualified fertility specialist, who can monitor closely the effect of the tablets and/or injections. This is because women respond differently to the medications and injections.

These treatments are very effective to address ovulation as a crucial aspect of achieving a natural pregnancy. Beyond these treatments, artificial insemination, egg donation and IVF are examples of further options.

You can read more about the treatment options we recommend to our fertility patients at Cape Fertility here.

What should I do if I think I have PCOS?

If you suspect that you have PCOS, we would like to invite you to come and meet one of our specialists by clicking here

We offer all the most effective fertility treatments at Cape Fertility, including treatment for PCOS.

At Cape Fertility, we value each individual patient and we look forward to providing you with individualised and personalised care, affordable quality fertility treatment, and higher success rates at our purpose-built premises in the beautiful city of Cape Town.