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Q. My 20 year old daughter has been diagnosed with PCOS- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. What is it and how do you treat it? What are the long term implications to her health?

A. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that involves multiple organ systems within a woman’s body and is believed to be fundamentally caused by insensitivity to the hormone insulin.  It can be diagnosed in girls as young as 9 years of age up through the menopause.  Common symptoms of PCOS include:- Irregular or absent menstrual periods- Irregular ovulation which can lead to infertility- Weight gain (especially around the waist)- Acne- Excess hair growth on the face and body- Thinning scalp hairWomen with PCOS often will also have many small painless cysts in the ovaries (hence the term “polycystic”).  However, it is not necessary to have these “cysts” to be diagnosed with PCOS.  In fact, PCOS manifests itself differently in each woman.The diagnosis is usually made by taking a thorough medical history, performing a physical exam and checking certain blood hormone levels.  There is not one single test that makes the diagnosis.While PCOS is not curable, it can be successfully managed with medications and changes in diet and exercise.  There are several approaches to achieving hormonal balance including birth control pills, anti-androgen medications and drugs that help the body respond better to insulin.  Proper early treatment is essential to avoid progression to long term illnesses such as high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.  For women who have fertility problems, medications that improve ovulation may be helpful.William Mitsos, M.D., McMurray OB/GYN Associates, can be reached at (724) 942-5420 or visit www.washingtonobgyn.net.

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