It’s been called the ‘silent thief’. PCOS- or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome affects up to five million women in this country. In many cases, so severe it robs them of their femininity and fertility. The first traces often appear in the teen years.
“We see a lot of referrals for teenage girls who have problems with their menstruation, problems with their mood, problems with their self-esteem - issues that are linked to this particular syndrome,” says Dr. Cayce Jehaimi, pediatric endocrinologist with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.
PCOS is marked by a hormone imbalance that causes high testosterone levels.
“There’s a spectrum of PCOS. There’s severe, there’s mild, and there’s moderate. A girl can have high testosterone and yet can be asymptomatic. And you can have a girl that is very depressed, very anxious, very high testosterone and she does not menstruate on a monthly basis,” says Dr. Jehaimi.
Outward signs of PCOS are: acne, weight gain, excess hair on face, chest or back, irregular periods, depression, and infertility.
When these symptoms are present, doctors will check hormone levels. Patients may also undergo an ultrasound to check for cysts in the ovaries. Once other issues are ruled out, the diagnosis is made. Treatment is mostly a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.
“There’s a very strong link between insulin and testosterone. And if you have a young woman who has high insulin you can’t address the high testosterone unless you address the high insulin. I come up with a treatment plan-diet and exercise. A lot of those girls need pharmacological intervention in addition to lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Jehaimi.
While there is no cure for PCOS, the condition can be well managed, restoring fertility and bringing back the feminine feel.