Also known as Stein-Leventhal Syndrome or Polycystic Ovary Disease (PCOD), PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. Often caused by insulin resistance, being overweight, and high stress levels, PCOS not only affects a woman’s chances of conceiving, but her ability to carry to term as well. According to the Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association, a national nonprofit organization operated by women with the condition, an estimated 6 to 10 percent of all women have PCOS. Most don’t even know it.
Insulin resistance means that the body doesn’t respond to insulin properly to bring the sugar levels down, so the pancreas work harder and harder to produce more insulin to get the blood glucose level under control. The pancreas eventually become exhausted and can no longer output enough insulin to keep the blood sugar level down. This chronic condition causes the ovaries to produce too many male hormones which can suppress egg maturation and even damage the eggs themselves. This makes it difficult for a woman to achieve pregnancy and also increases the rate of miscarriage if she does conceive.
Besides infertility and early pregnancy loss, symptoms of PCOS due to insulin resistance include: irregular menstrual cycles (few or no periods); excess facial or body hair; acne; sudden unexplained weight gain; difficulty maintaining a healthy weight; darkened patches of skin on the neck, groin, under the arms, or in the skin folds; depression or anxiety; balding or thinning hair; elevated cholesterol, especially LDL, or triglycerides; and a family history of type II diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension. The symptoms and severity of PCOS vary from woman to woman.
The good news is that PCOS is treatable if it’s detected early. Our institute is one of the very few facilities that can not only detect, but treat the condition as well. The specialized test for insulin resistance is as simple as drawing blood. Then we develop a plan to get the insulin level under control.
I have successfully treated over 2,000 women with PCOS and have conducted several studies on the effect of lifestyle change on controlling the condition. I have found that many of my patients with PCOS who begin exercising regularly, eating a well-balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and managing stress can control the condition without medication. Some, however, do need to take insulin-sensitizing medications, such as metformin (glucophager), in conjunction with adopting a healthy lifestyle to manage PCOS.
Dr. Chung H. Wu is a leading expert on detecting and treating PCOS. To schedule an appointment with him at the DVIF&G office in Lawrenceville, please call 609-895-0088. For more information on the Delaware Valley Institute of Fertility & Genetics (DVIF&G), visit www.dvifg.com.