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Vital Signs

Spring 2005

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Treatable

Women of child-bearing years who experience irregular menstrual cycles may be suffering from a common—but underdiagnosed— condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

“PCOS is a hormonal disorder with a constellation of symptoms to varying degrees, but mostly characterized by irregular periods and hyperandrogonism (an abundance of male hormone),” explains Judy Mikacich, M.D., UCLA obstetrician/gynecologist. A woman with polycystic ovaries stops menstruating, often menstruates erratically, or may have never menstruated. Other telltale symptoms may include weight gain often to the point of obesity, the development of excessive amounts of facial or body hair (hirsutism), and acne. 

When ovaries do not function normally, incompletely developed follicles (ova) may accumulate in the ovaries. “It’s as if the ovaries are confused and do not know each month how to pick a leader to grow to full size and ovulate,” Dr. Mikacich explains. The ova accumulate as cysts in the ovary, contributing to infertility.

 “Most patients we see are concerned that they are having trouble getting pregnant,” notes Alan DeCherney, M.D., UCLA obstetrician/gynecologist who specializes in endocrine disorders in women. Conception is frequently possible, often with oral or injectable fertility drugs.

Treatment for women who do not want to get pregnant usually includes birth control pills, which stimulate estrogen production through the use of low-dose hormones. Another newer treatment involves using metformin, a medication commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes.

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