Q: My mother and sister have polycystic ovary syndrome. Am I at a greater risk for developing it? What are the symptoms?
A: Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, affects women of all ages and is a leading cause of infertility. About 50 percent of women who have a mother or sister with PCOS will develop the disease themselves. PCOS affects 6 percent to 10 percent of women around the world.
What causes PCOS is still a mystery. The link between genetics or environmental substances and PCOS is uncertain, and, currently, there is no screening test available.
Polycystic means "multiple cysts," which grow in the ovaries and cause hormonal imbalances. This can result in irregular periods, excessive hair growth on the face and body, acne, weight gain, infertility, dark areas on the skin and male-pattern baldness.
If you are diagnosed with PCOS and you are experiencing infertility, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help your ovaries produce mature eggs. She may also recommend losing weight if you are obese, which is known to affect your ability to conceive when you have PCOS. Weight loss can trigger your periods to resume if they have stopped.
Losing weight offers other benefits, too, for women with PCOS. It can decrease the amount of abnormal hair growth and improve your glucose and lipid levels. In fact, exercise, combined with a healthy diet, reduces your risk for diabetes as well as or better than medication. For women with PCOS, a low-calorie diet is most effective for weight loss.
Once you are pregnant, you must be monitored carefully by your doctor to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Women with PCOS are more likely to have pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes.
Even if you are not planning to get pregnant, PCOS should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Left unchecked, it can increase risks for development of diabetes, heart disease and endometrial cancer.
Talk to your OB/GYN about your concerns. She can determine if you have any symptoms or risk factors for PCOS. Together, you can identify lifestyle changes that may help you manage them successfully.
Dr. Joanne Price Williamson is an OB/GYN in practice at Memorial Health University Physicians | Women's Health Bluffton in Okatie.