Posted: Friday, February 22, 2019

The Basics of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Why every woman needs to know about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition that can cause a treatable form of infertility, contributes to obesity and significantly increases the chances of developing diabetes by age 40. Many women with PCOS don’t realize they have the condition, which can be managed if properly diagnosed, explains Blount Memorial endocrinologist David Irizarry, who is board-certified in endocrinology and obesity medicine.

“Frequently, PCOS symptoms—such as irregular periods, unwanted hair growth and acne—are treated separately, not viewed as a whole,” says Irizarry, adding that while ‘cystic’ is part of the syndrome’s name, you do not have to have ovarian cysts to be diagnosed with PCOS. “Symptoms get worse as you put on weight, so losing weight can really help reverse many signs and symptoms caused by PCOS. I am able to use my specialties —endocrinology, which deals with hormones, and obesity management—to deal with the hormonal side of PCOS and also help those with PCOS lose weight.”

Irizarry explains that PCOS affects women of child-bearing age and can begin at any age after puberty. Many women with PCOS aren’t diagnosed until they have trouble conceiving a child and seek medical help for infertility.

Typically, PCOS is diagnosed using a combination of blood tests, physical findings and, possibly, imaging to identify at least two of the following criteria:

  • irregular menstrual periods or anovulation
  • elevated androgen levels or related symptoms, such as excess hair growth, acne or male-pattern balding
  • polycystic ovaries

“It can be incredibly frustrating for women who are experiencing symptoms of PCOS but never make it to an endocrinologist,” Irizarry says. “They have irregular periods and are sent to an obstetrician-gynecologist. They have acne and are sent to a dermatologist. They have trouble getting pregnant and are sent to a fertility specialist. I enjoy managing PCOS because I am able to look at the big picture and tell a patient: ‘This is what you have, and this is how I can try to help you out.’”

He adds, “It’s amazing when a woman on the verge of developing diabetes can avoid becoming diabetic by losing weight, or when a woman who was told she could only conceive a child with IVF [in vitro fertilization] conceives naturally because she was able to lose weight and manage her PCOS. Any woman who is experiencing symptoms possibly related to PCOS should talk to her primary care physician and request an endocrine consult.”

To make an appointment with Dr. Irizarry, call East Tennessee Medical Group at 865-984-3864.

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