Polycystic Ovaries

Ovarian cysts can be classified into two major distinctive groups  – Functional and Complex.

Unlike functional cysts that develop during the normal course of the menstrual cycle, complex ovarian cysts are usually abnormal growths that develop for totally different reasons.

A well-known example is polycystic ovaries, which is caused by a hormonal imbalance.

Polycystic ovaries is a complex ovary disease in which eggs mature but aren’t released from their follicles.  This pattern of non-released eggs continues with each monthly ovulation cycle, causing multiple ovarian cysts to form. 

Follicles are sacs within the ovaries that contain eggs.   Normally, eggs are stored in the follicles until they grow to maturity and are released into the fallopian tubes.

With polycystic ovary disease, there are many poorly developed follicles in the ovaries.  The eggs in these follicles do not fully mature and, therefore, cannot be released from the ovaries.   Instead, they develop into multiple cysts in or on the ovary.

Also known as PCOD or Polycystic Ovarian Disease, it is one of the leading causes of infertility among women. 

The combination of immature follicles and the inability to release an egg (ovulate) can contribute to infertility.  These factors are likely caused by low levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), and higher than normal levels of male hormones (androgens) being produced in the ovary.

In addition, polycystic ovarian disease is a health problem that can affect a woman’s:

  • Menstrual cycle – missed or irregular periods
  • Hormones – balance between the follicle stimulating hormones and androgens
  • Heart – various heart diseases
  • Blood vessels – high blood pressure
  • Appearance – acne, overweight, etc.

Polycystic ovaries are just one symptom of a disorder known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).   This chronic condition involves multiple hormonal and organ system dysfunctions. 

It is believed that between 5% and 10% of women of childbearing age have PCOS, meaning as many as 5 million women in the United States may be affected.   Polycystic ovaries can occur in girls as young as 11 years old.

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Your Risk Factors

There are various risk factors to be aware of that may increase your chances of developing polycystic ovaries.

The first factor is your medical history.  If you have developed ovarian cysts before, you are more likely to have multiple cysts develop than someone who has never had an ovarian cyst.

Your family history should also be considered.  If the women in your family have had, or are currently having ovarian cyst problems, you are more likely to develop them as well.  Women diagnosed with PCOS frequently have a mother or sister with similar symptoms commonly associated with polycystic ovarian disease

Having an irregular menstrual cycle is another risk factor.  Women who don’t ovulate regularly can develop multiple cysts.  When this happens, the ovaries often become enlarged and contain many small clusters of cysts under a thickened, outer capsule.  Many women with this condition are prescribed oral contraceptives to help regulate their menstruation and reduce the chances of developing polycystic ovaries. 

Also, women who had their first period before the age of 11 are at a higher risk of having cysts during their lifetime.

Hormonal imbalances and your diet can also increase your chances of developing polycystic ovaries.  Too often we do not eat properly or pay enough attention to how the various additives and preservatives found in our food, along with toxins in the environment can affect our bodies.

How do I know if I have PCOS? 

Polycystic ovaries have been found to occur most often in women who are in their 20s and 30s.    There is no single test to diagnose PCOS.   Instead, your doctor will take the following steps to determine if you have polycystic ovaries …or if something else is causing your symptoms.

Your doctor will ask you about your medical history including items such as the frequency and type of menstrual periods, weight changes, and other symptoms.

Performing a pelvic exam will enable your doctor to check if your ovaries have become enlarged or swollen by the increased number of small cysts.

Blood tests may also be performed to check the androgen hormone and glucose (sugar) levels in your blood.

A vaginal ultrasound or sonogram is a test that uses sound waves to take pictures of the area where you are experiencing pelvic pain.  It can also be used to examine your ovaries for different types of ovarian cysts and check the endometrium (lining of the womb), which may become thicker if your periods are not regular.

How is PCOS treated?

As always, early detection is the key in treating most medical conditions.  If your physician suspects the presence of polycystic ovaries, further diagnostic tests will be performed.

Because there is no cure for PCOS, this condition will need to be managed to prevent problems.  Treatment goals are based on your symptoms, whether or not you want to become pregnant, and lowering your chances of getting heart disease and diabetes. Many women will need a combination of treatments to meet these goals.

As an alternative to surgery, there are natural treatments that will relieve the pain and discomfort of your ovarian cysts.   These treatments, when used along with the advice of your medical professional, may even prevent the need for surgery as your body becomes balanced once again.

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