Northwestern takes on ovarian syndrome from all sides
25 September 2002
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Copyright 2002, Chicago Tribune. All Rights Reserved.
Reflecting the growing health-care trend of bringing together specialists from across the medical spectrum to treat patients in one spot–such as spine clinics, eating disorder centers and Botox clinics–Northwestern Memorial Hospital has opened one of the nation’s first formal interdisciplinary centers for women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
The center unites specialists in internal medicine, reproductive endocrinology, gynecology and more to address the uniquely distressing health concerns of PCOS sufferers.
Although most people have never heard of this disorder, it affects 5 percent to 10 percent of premenopausal women, or about 5 million U.S. women, said Dr. Andrea Dunaif, chief of Northwestern’s division of endocrinology and the center’s co-director. In adolescence and young adulthood, the disorder usually presents itself in the form of menstrual irregularities, painful periods, and excessive facial and body hair. These symptoms, Dunaif said, are caused by an imbalance in which the body produces abnormally high levels of male hormones. Later in life, these abnormalities can cause hardening of the arteries, elevated insulin levels, and may interfere with the woman’s ability to conceive. Additionally, women with PCOS have a seven-times greater chance of developing adult onset diabetes, a result of their bodies developing a resistance to their own insulin.
“The name is somewhat inappropriate,” Dunaif said, “because people don’t think of a disorder that has the name `ovary’ in it as anything serious, unless it’s ovarian cancer. It would be better if it were called `female metabolic syndrome.’ It’s a constellation of risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
PCOS is incurable, but with multidisciplinary clinics opening up to help women with the disorder, treatments are improving.
“We’re moving away from [departmentalized units] to having groups of practitioners in a place where patients can have convenient health care and knowledge, all in one setting,” she said. For instance, patients at Northwestern Memorial’s PCOS Center can have their cholesterol levels measured, be screened for diabetes, and consult an infertility specialist. Considering the average PCOS sufferer sees between four and five practitioners before obtaining a correct diagnosis, Dunaif said, a multidisciplinary clinic can streamline operations. The disincentive, she said: Care may be more expensive, as insurance jams and medical billing problems are ironed out.
The center is currently recruiting women between 18 and 45 with six or fewer periods per year to participate in a National Institutes of Health-funded PCOS study looking at genetic susceptibility. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call 312-695-7269.