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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

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DIABETES AND ENDOCRINE SYSTEM

Endocrine System

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition most often characterized by irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth (hirsutism) and obesity, but it can affect women in different ways. Irregular or heavy periods may signal the condition in adolescence, or PCOS may become apparent later when a woman has difficulty becoming pregnant.

The signs and symptoms of PCOS stem from a disruption in the reproductive cycle, which normally culminates each month with the release of an egg from an ovary (ovulation). The name of the condition comes from the appearance of the ovaries in some women with the disorder - large and studded with numerous cysts (polycystic). These cysts are follicles, fluid-filled sacs that contain immature eggs.

Although the condition has been noted since antiquity, it was first described in medical literature in the 1930s when Irving Stein and Michael Leventhal wrote about a group of women without menstrual periods (amenorrhea) who had large ovaries with multiple cysts. Doctors sometimes call the condition Stein-Leventhal syndrome, polycystic ovaries or polycystic ovary disease.

Early diagnosis and treatment of PCOS can help reduce the risk of long-term complications, which include diabetes and heart disease.

When to seek medical advice

Early diagnosis of PCOS can help reduce the risk of long-term complications such as diabetes and heart disease. Talk with your doctor if you have irregular, scant or no menstrual periods, are overweight, and have acne or excess facial hair growth. Your doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in hormonal disorders.

Screening and diagnosis

Your doctor may evaluate you for reproductive, hormonal and cardiovascular disorders. He or she will obtain a history of your symptoms and perform a complete physical examination, including a pelvic examination.

As part of the pelvic examination, your doctor will insert two gloved fingers inside your vagina. While simultaneously pressing down on your abdomen, he or she can examine your uterus, ovaries and ...

Other tests may include:

  • Blood tests. Your blood may be drawn for laboratory tests to measure levels of several hormones. These may include testosterone, DHEA and androstenedione, LH, FSH, progesterone, prolactin and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which triggers the release of thyroid hormone from the thyroid gland. As well, these tests will likely measure fasting glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

  • Ultrasound. Your doctor may request an ultrasound to check the thickness of the lining of your uterus. Ultrasound exams are painless. While you relax on a bed or examining table, a wand-like device (transducer) is placed on your body. It emits inaudible sound waves that are translated into images on a computer.

  • Endometrial biopsy. To detect any precancerous conditions that can cause abnormal uterine bleeding, your doctor may suggest an endometrial biopsy. This is usually an office procedure without anesthesia in which your doctor removes a tissue sample from your uterine lining for laboratory analysis.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 01:53 AM