Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common health problem caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. The often undiagnosed condition is a leading cause of infertility in women and Dr. Lolwa Al Ansari, Senior Consultant Obstetrician/Gynecologist and Reproductive Medicine at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) says around half of the women currently being treated for infertility at HMC have PCOS.
“Worldwide, PCOS is thought to affect as many as 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. Women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance and metabolism problems that may affect their overall health and appearance and it is a common cause of infertility. Fortunately, infertility caused by PCOS is treatable. Every day we see PCOS patients in our IVF, Infertility and Gynecology Clinics, and each week we treat around 100 women in our Infertility Clinics, with over 50 percent of them having PCOS,” said Dr. Al Ansari, who is also an Assistant Professor at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar.
While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, it is thought to involve a strong genetic component, with stress and environmental factors, including diet, exercise, and pollution, believed to play a role in the condition’s development.
Dr. Al Ansari says that while PCOS cannot be prevented, early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent long-term complications, such as infertility, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and depression. She says the key to managing PCOS is to treat the condition’s symptoms and she urges any woman who suspects she might have PCOS to talk to her doctor.
“There is no single test to definitively diagnose PCOS, but any woman who experiences symptoms of PCOS, such as irregular periods, or no periods at all, male-pattern balding, extra hair growth on the face, chin, or body, acne, or difficulty getting pregnant, should talk with her doctor,” says Dr. Al Ansari.
“Blood tests may be used to analyze the patient’s hormone levels and an ultrasound can be used to check the appearance of her ovaries. The treatment plan will depend on the severity of her symptoms. Most patients with PCOS can be treated by their primary care doctor, but specialist treatment may be required to address specific symptoms, such as infertility,” says Dr. Al Ansari.
“If a woman suspects she has PCOS, it is important that she seek medical care before attempting to become pregnant as she will require monitoring. PCOS can cause problems during pregnancy for a woman and her unborn baby. Women with PCOS have higher rates of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia. Pregnant women with PCOS are also more likely to require a C-section because of pregnancy complications associated with the condition,” added Dr. Al Ansari.
Dr. Al Ansari says the treatment plan for PCOS tends to be individualized based on the patient’s symptoms. She says lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise, as well as medications to regulate menstrual cycles and fertility treatments, may also be prescribed and she notes that losing extra body weight is highly recommended.
“At this point, there is no cure for PCOS, but there are many ways to decrease, and in some cases eliminate PCOS symptoms. Several different medicines can treat symptoms such as irregular periods, acne, excess hair, and elevated blood sugar. Fertility treatments are available to help women get pregnant and lifestyle changes that result in weight loss can also help reduce many of the symptoms of PCOS,” says Dr. Al Ansari.
“Women who are using medication to help control symptoms of PCOS must ensure they attend follow-up appointments with their doctor to monitor that the treatment is working. Patience is also required as it may take time for some medications, such as treatments to help with facial hair or acne, to work. Ongoing checkups are also an important part of helping to identify other health problems that can be caused by PCOS, such as diabetes and high blood pressure,” added Dr. Al Ansari.