Dear Alice,

I was recently diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos). i'm only 17 and am afraid that this will affect my chance of having children. should i worry? also, i know birth control pills will help me regulate my period, but if i take them, will it stop the effects pcos has on me? like me gaining rapid weight, missed periods, and losing my hair? this is really worrying me. can you inform me on this syndrome?


Dear worried,

It can be scary to find out that you have a lifelong condition. You are wise to seek out as much information as possible. It's great that you got your diagnosis early; many women don't find out what's going on until they're older, after they've been dealing with their symptoms without necessarily understanding them.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (also called PCOS or Stein-Leventhal syndrome) occurs when hormone levels are abnormal. In general, too much of the male hormones (androgens) and too little of the female hormones (estrogens) are produced, preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg every month (ovulating). Little cysts form where the egg should have been released, and the ovaries may become abnormally enlarged.

As you've already mentioned, PCOS causes a number of symptoms, including:

  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • Problems with fertility
  • Weight gain
  • Heavy hair growth on the face and body
  • Male-pattern hair loss on the head
  • Acne

A number of medications can help with these symptoms. Birth control pills can help periods become regular and predictable. Extraneous hair growth may be improved by birth control pills, or a number of other drugs called glucocorticoids, LHRH analogs, spironalactone, or glitazones. Less frequently, surgery is used to remove a wedge of the ovary, to lessen the abnormal hormonal effects.

Controlling and managing weight is crucial to one's general health. Women with PCOS will want to learn as much as possible about healthy eating, so that they can manage their weight. Exercising regularly helps prevent excess weight gain. Monitoring eating and exercising patterns may also help avoid some of the complications of PCOS, such as Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and heart disease.

If a woman with PCOS decides that she'd like to become pregnant, medications may help her ovulate, including clomiphene, human chorionic gonadotropin, bromocriptine, and urofollitropin. And, while someone would probably prefer not to use these interventions, a lot of techniques and procedures are available to help women who are having difficulty becoming pregnant. The good news is that once a woman with PCOS gets pregnant, the pregnancy usually proceeds along normally.

In some cities and on-line, support groups are available for women with PCOS. You may want to talk with your health care provider about this, because listening to the experiences of others as well as sharing your own can be reassuring. You also can check out the following web sites that have lots of information:

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association

The InterNational Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, Inc. — PCOS Frequently Asked Questions

    Again, the more information you have, the more in control of your condition and your health you'll feel.


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