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Diagnosing and Treating PCOS

Aug 18, 2007
PCOS has been until recent years a mysterious scourge of over 10% of women worldwide. PCOS stands for "Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome." Break the term down into its constituent parts, and you understand its meaning:

1. Polycystic means the production of more than one cyst on a woman's ovaries. In general, these cysts are immature, not resulting in the production of an egg, or ovum, which can be fertilized. There are usually many such cysts at one time.

2. Ovarian means that the syndrome is associated with the ovaries. A conclusive diagnosis can be made by laparoscopic examination of the surface of the ovaries. The physician usually finds cysts that are 5 to 7 times larger than a normal ovarian cyst, generally with a white cap over them.

3. Syndrome means that there are several symptoms which combine to help diagnose PCOS. These symptoms range widely, but can include male-pattern hairiness on the face and the rest of the body, infertility, insulin resistance, overweight or obesity, depression and deepening of the voice.

Many women have gone undiagnosed with PCOS for years because of the multiplicity of symptoms. Some symptoms are congruent with obesity, for example, like insulin resistance and release of testosterone, the male hormone. Others have to do with other forms of infertility-many women are discovered to suffer from PCOS when they and their husbands visit infertility clinics.

The underlying causes of PCOS are not yet proven. This is what makes it so difficult, in some cases, to diagnose PCOS without a definitive laparoscopy. One theory is that women who have PCOS have an underproduction of FSH, or Follicle Stimulating Hormone, from their pituitary gland. A low production of FSH can be tied to a lack of maturity of the ovarian cysts, which in turn lead to reduction or elimination of periods, and the production of many cysts at one time.

If true, the underproduction of FSH by the pituitary may be associated with other pituitary abnormalities, again resulting in a number of symptoms which make diagnosis difficult or confusing.

Just as there are several symptoms and explanations for PCOS, there are also several treatments. The exact treatment protocol depends on the woman, the degree to which the syndrome has advanced, and the subsequent damage that has been done to the woman's body over a period of time.

In some cases, women will take drugs which stimulate the pituitary to produce more FSH. This provides a direct stimulation to the ovarian follicles to mature, which also reduces the number of them and brings a woman back into normal estrus.

In more severe cases, laparoscopic surgery is recommended in order to manually reduce the number of immature follicles on the surface of the ovaries. This reduction will reduce the overproduction of insulin and testosterone, and reverse the processes of insulin resistance and masculinization that accompany this hormone production.

If the woman's PCOS has been in place for a number of years, additional drugs may be needed to counteract the effects of heavy insulin production, including glucophage and, in some cases, additional insulin.
About the Author
Scott Meyers is a staff writer for Its Entirely Natural, a resource for helping you achieve a naturally healthy body, mind, and spirit. You may contact our writers through the web site. Follow this link for more information on PCOS Insulin Resistance .
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