Ask the Mayo Clinic: April 29, 2005
Dear Mayo Clinic:
I’m a 39-year-old woman with all the classic signs of polycystic ovary syndrome: an “apple shape,” irregular periods and hair growth in conspicuous places. My doctor did blood tests and told me I don’t have this condition. Is a blood test the definitive diagnostic test for PCOS? What treatment options are there for managing my symptoms, especially the hair growth? I’m so tired of plucking and shaving.
– Moline, Ill.
No definitive test exists for diagnosing polycystic ovary syndrome. Blood tests can measure your hormone levels to provide clues about whether you have PCOS, but further evaluation should be done to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
If your clinical picture fits PCOS, and tests results do not indicate the presence of another medical condition, you can take steps to minimize your symptoms. First, let’s start with some background.
PCOS is a hormonal disorder. Although the exact cause is unknown, research suggests a link between PCOS and insulin resistance in the body. Common symptoms include irregular periods, excess facial and body hair, acne, male-pattern baldness and obesity.
These symptoms are caused by an overproduction of male hormones, called androgens. Many women with PCOS also have difficulty becoming pregnant.
If your doctor cannot identify another medical condition causing your symptoms, here are a few things that can help:
Medication to regulate your menstrual cycles.
Medication to stop excess hair growth.
Maintaining a healthy weight is key to dealing with PCOS. Studies have shown that weight loss can reduce insulin and androgen levels, which will decrease the severity of your symptoms.
Unfortunately, once hair growth has occurred, medication cannot reverse it. But after several months of taking medication that prevents further growth, you could undergo treatment, such as electrolysis or laser therapy, to permanently remove the hair that is already there.
Keep in mind that women with PCOS are at increased risk for developing heart disease and diabetes. It’s important that you receive an accurate diagnosis of your symptoms to reduce your risk of possible long-term health complications.
– Kristi Boldt, M.D, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
Medical Edge from Mayo Clinic is an educational resource and doesn’t replace regular medical care. To e-mail a question, go to www.mayoclinic.org , or write: Medical Edge from Mayo Clinic, c/o TMS, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY, 14207. For health information, visit www.mayoclinic.com .
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