New criteria for diagnosis and treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) were just released by the Endocrine Society, and will appear in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The new recommendations will allow physicians to make a diagnosis if several clear symptoms are present.
According to the National Institutes of Health, PCOS affects about 5 million women in the United States. It's considered the most common hormone disorder in women of reproductive age, and the leading cause of infertility, but its causes are not well understood, and it can be challenging to diagnose because of diverse and varying symptoms. "The Endocrine Society's Clinical Practice Guideline (CPG) is designed to help physicians and patients navigate our evolving understanding of this complex condition," said Richard S. Legro, MD, of the Penn State University College of Medicine, and chair of the task force that authored the guideline. "The Society's recommendations allow physicians to make the diagnosis if clear symptoms are present without resorting to universal hormone tests or ultrasound screening."
Common symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstrual cycles, excess production of male hormones, which often causes increased acne, facial hair growth, or thinning hair, and enlarged ovaries containing numerous small cysts. The latest CPG calls for a diagnosis if women have two of these features.
Many women visit their doctor, and will undergo a workup for PCOS when they have problems conceiving, or have trouble with excess weight gain and difficulty losing weight, as both conditions can be a result of PCOS. If left untreated, women with PCOS can be at greater risk of developing diabetes or gestational diabetes from the weight gain and insulin resistance that often develops, as well as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, PCOS may put women at an increased risk of developing endometrial cancer from exposure to elevated levels of estrogen.
Treatment for PCOS can involve low dose birth control pills to regulate hormones and menstrual irregularities, as well as oral diabetes medications to lower insulin levels and reduce insulin resistance. A balanced, low carbohydrate, higher protein diet, and regular cardiovascular exercise is also essential to help manage weight problems.