Polycystic ovary syndrome

Our approach

Our gynecologists at Northwell Health have found that treating polycystic ovary syndrome requires collaboration. By working step-by-step with endocrinologists, experts that deal with hormone-related issues, we guarantee that your treatment is comprehensive and thorough. We rely on the detailed assessments from our endocrinologists to provide you with personalized treatment for your unique needs. 

Overview of polycystic ovary syndrome

PCOS is an ovulatory dysfunction that causes women to grow small cysts on their ovaries. Although these cysts are not harmful, they can lead to hormonal imbalances. 

Causes and risk factors

Although the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, there are several factors that may play a role:

  • Genetics — If someone in your family has PCOS, you may have a greater chance of having it, too.
  • High levels of insulin — Insulin is the hormone that controls how your food intake is converted to energy. Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, which occurs when your body’s cells respond to insulin in an abnormal way. As a result, your insulin blood levels become higher than normal.
  • Increased androgens — Androgens, or “male hormones,” control the development of male traits such as thinning of the hair, or facial hair. Women with PCOS have more androgens than estrogen. These increased androgens can prevent you from ovulating during each menstrual cycle.

Risk factors associated with PCOS include:

  • Diabetes
  • Higher risk of heart attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Infertility
  • Endometrial cancer 

Symptoms

Symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Menstrual irregularity
  • Hair loss from the scalp
  • Acne
  • Abnormal hair growth on the face, chest, back, stomach, thumbs or toes

Diagnosis and testing

Although there is no definitive test, there are several ways your doctor can diagnose PCOS, primarily through exclusion of other diseases.

  • Medical history — Your doctor will spend some time getting to know you, your symptoms and your medical history.
  • Physical exam — Your doctor will collect information such as height, weight and blood pressure.
  • Ultrasound — An ultrasound exam can amplify an image of your ovaries and the thickness of the lining of your uterus for your doctor.
  • Pelvic Exam — During a pelvic exam, your doctor inspects your reproductive organs for any irregularities such as masses or growths.
  • Blood tests — Blood tests will reveal hormone levels and help exclude any abnormalities that can imitate PCOS. 

Treatment options

There are several lifestyle changes and hormonal therapies that can help you control PCOS. Learning to control your condition will help lower risk factors such as diabetes and infertility.

  • Weight loss management
  • Regular exercise
  • Healthy eating habits
  • Metformin, a non-hormonal option that helps regulate the ovulatory dysfunction and is typically used to control diabetes
  • Hormonal therapy, such as a combination of birth control pills consisting of both estrogen and progestin, or a vaginal ring or skin patch that contains the same combination of hormones
  • Clomiphene, an oral anti-estrogen medication, to stimulate ovulation if you are trying to conceive