Living With PCOS

More than one in 20 women of childbearing age suffer polycystic ovarian syndrome. These women experience obesity, unwanted facial hair, and, often infertility, because of a hormone imbalance in the reproductive system. It’s not clear what causes them imbalance, but researchers have several hypotheses. PCOS might be associated with insulin levels with elevated insulin causing other hormones to also be out of whack. There appears to be a genetic component of the condition, wit close relatives of people with PCOS being particularly susceptible to the disease. Women with PCOS tend to also have low-grade inflammation, and there may be a causal connection. The disease may also be traceable to the fetal environment, with exposure to certain kinds of hormones in utero leading to imbalances in the child.

There are less well known symptoms too. PCOS can interfere with ordinary menstruation, and can lead to mental illness—the more disrupted the patient’s menstrual cycle, the more likely it is that she will have depression anxiety, or other mental health problem. This is why it is important to consider mental health in treating PCOS. Currently, treatment mostly addresses the physical aspects: regulating and re-normalizing the menstrual cycle, enabling fertility, and dealing with hair growth. Sometimes surgery is used to help insure fertility. However, the findings about mental illness suggest that, while fertility can be a goal in its own right, it is not necessary to address infertility in a patient who is not trying to get pregnant. he mental health aspect seems to be related to hormonal activity directly.

Interestingly, the ovarian cysts that give the condition its name are not as major a feature of the disease as was once believed. This is why a panel of doctors are recommending that PCOS get a new name.

"The name PCOS is a distraction that impedes progress. It is time to assign a name that reflects the complex interactions that characterize the syndrome," said Dr. Robert A. Rizza, a member of the panel, in a statement. "The right name will enhance recognition of this issue and assist in expanding research support." No specific proposed new name for the disease has been agreed upon.

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