By Sarah Artman, MD
Board-Certified, American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Aventiv Research, Inc.
Did you know September is PCOS month?
But, what in the world is PCOS and why do I care?
PCOS is a syndrome with a publicity problem. The name PCOS sounds a bit mysterious and does little to describe the condition. Perhaps we should call it The Condition That 10% of Women Don’t Know They Have. Unfortunately, not only can this condition cause unpleasant symptoms such as obesity, excessive hair growth, acne and infertility, it is also linked to serious medical conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. What is it anyway? Medical experts debate the exact criteria for diagnosis, so that should tell you how much confusion there is about this condition. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is basically a hormonal condition in which women experience irregular menses, usually too far apart, plus signs or symptoms of excessive androgens or male hormones. Such symptoms may include excessive hair growth in areas such as the face or abdomen, obesity, acne, infertility, glucose intolerance. Yes, 10% of women have this condition. And many don’t even know about it. There is a real need to find better treatment options for PCOS.
What is Polycystic?
Polycystic just means multiple cysts or fluid-filled sacs. Well, we’ve all had cysts of various kinds, right? Have you ever had a pimple? That’s a cyst! The normal, routine job of ovaries is to make a group of cysts every month, one of which releases an egg—this is ovulation! So, what’s abnormal about PCOS ovaries? During the process of making a several small cysts, in preparation for releasing an egg ready for fertilization, PCOS cysts never reach the proper conditions for releasing the egg. It’s like these cysts are stuck in a pre-ovulation stage. These small cysts accumulate every month, which means on ultrasound they appear as polycystic ovaries.
When the cysts get stuck like this the body responds by trying harder, the ovaries make more and more small cysts while the brain structures responsible for managing the ovaries try harder and harder to get them to ovulate. More and more hormones are released, but not in the proper amount or sequence to stimulate normal ovulation. This leads to a delay in the menstrual period, and the unreleased ovarian cysts also lead to an increase in male hormones such as testosterone. This ramping up of the body in response to the abnormal cycles then leads to the obesity, hirsutism, infertility, and other symptoms common in PCOS. These conditions then contribute to the abnormal menstrual cycles. An endless loop or circle of abnormal stimulation and erroneous feedback continues.
Treatments for PCOS
Treatments so far have been aimed at treating the symptoms of PCOS rather than the cause of the disorder. Many doctors prescribe hormones to regulate menses, medications to reduce hair growth, and medications to improve glucose control. However, rather than just treating symptoms of PCOS, promising new medications for PCOS may help correct the central defects in the pathways of the brain’s hormonal management. This exciting approach aims to affect the hormonal stimulation that is causing the ovary to ‘misfire’ its ovulatory cysts.
Future Developments for PCOS
Aventiv Research is currently conducting a trial of an investigational study medication using this new approach for treating PCOS. If you or someone you know have irregular menstrual periods or the other symptoms described above, you may qualify for participation in this study. There are many reasons to consider volunteering for a research study. You may gain access to new treatments or find a treatment option with fewer side effects. You may contribute to discovering important treatments to help others. Volunteers also value the extra time our medical staff spends with them, providing medical care and education about their condition. Our studies provide free medical care, and many provide monetary compensation for time and travel. Please contact us for more information at 614-501-6164 or visit us at www.aventivresearch.com.