PCOS affects about 5 million women in this country and it is the leading cause of infertility. Often picked up in adulthood, the condition likely started years earlier.
“We continue to 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 stands for polycystic ovary syndrome. Because of its prevalence, the national endocrine society put forth a set of guidelines to simplify diagnosis and treatment recommendations. A first step is addressing the name.
“It’s a little bit of a misleading term and there has been a lot of debate on how to change that, how to define the disease because the name ‘polycystic’ means ‘many cysts’ in the ovary. A lot of girls don't have cysts in their ovaries. I don't do ovarian ultrasound to every girl who have suspect of having this condition, but yet that has been the name that has been used,” says Dr. Jehaimi.
Instead, health officials suggest basing the diagnosis on whether females have two of the three cardinal features. They include excess hormones, ovulatory dysfunction and cysts in the ovary. Unrelated conditions including thyroid disease can mimic symptoms, making an accurate diagnosis important for future fertility.
“It is a balance issue. You want to rule out any other possibility that can mimic PCOS,” says Dr. Jehaimi.
Aggressive treatment has the greatest impact when picked up during adolescents. But the most visible traits are commonplace in puberty, including irregular periods, acne and mild hormone elevations. It means doctors should be diligent, taking symptoms as a group.
“I tell the girl that your condition can be curable, absolutely. It’s not a permanent condition. But you have to start somewhere and this is where you start,” says Dr. Jehaimi.
Regardless the name, detecting PCOS early can diminish the risk of infertility and future health issues.