PCO and PCOS

PCOS Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Detail graphic

Introduction to PCO and PCOS: Two Distinct Conditions

Polycystic Ovary (PCO) and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two different conditions. While both PCO and PCOS involve the presence of “poly”, or many, cysts on the ovaries, they have distinct differences in terms of symptoms and diagnostic criteria.

Polycystic Ovary (PCO)

Polycystic Ovary (PCO) is a condition in which a woman’s ovaries contain more follicles than normal. Follicles are fluid-filled sacs that contain eggs. Women with PCO have at least 12 follicles on one or both ovaries, but they do not necessarily experience the hormonal imbalances or other symptoms associated with PCOS.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

In contrast, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that involves the presence of cysts, or follicles, on the ovaries as well as other symptoms. Women with PCOS typically have high levels of androgens, which are male hormones, such as testosterone, that can cause symptoms such as acne, excessive hair growth (hirsutism), and irregular menstrual cycles. PCOS is diagnosed based on the presence of two out of three criteria: ovarian cysts, high levels of androgen, and irregular menstrual cycles.

The exact cause of PCOS is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Women with PCOS have higher levels of insulin, which can contribute to the excess androgen production and insulin resistance seen in the condition. Women who have an insulin resistance may have weight gain and are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

IMPORTANT / It is important to note that PCO and PCOS are not mutually exclusive conditions. Women with PCO may develop PCOS if they experience hormonal imbalances or other symptoms associated with the condition. Additionally, some women with PCOS may not have cysts on their ovaries.

PCOS Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Ultrasound Transducer graphic

Treatment

There is currently no cure for PCOS, but there are several treatment options available to manage symptoms and improve overall health, including chances of pregnancy. These treatments include lifestyle changes such as weight loss and regular exercise, diet modifications, medications to regulate menstrual cycles and reduce androgen levels, and fertility treatments for women trying to conceive.

One of the most effective treatments for PCOS is weight loss. Even a modest weight loss of 5-10% can improve symptoms such as menstrual irregularity and insulin resistance. Regular exercise is also important for managing PCOS symptoms and improving overall health.

Medications such as birth control pills, metformin, and spironolactone can help regulate menstrual cycles and reduce androgen levels in women with PCOS. Metformin can be used to improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin and decrease the levels of circulating insulin. Fertility treatments such as clomiphene citrate and letrozole can also be used to induce ovulation in women who are trying to conceive.

Regular gynecologic care 

It is important for women with PCOS to receive regular medical care and monitoring, as they are at a higher risk for certain health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Women with PCOS should also be screened for depression and anxiety, as these conditions are more common in women with PCOS. If a woman is not on hormonal birth control and ever goes 3 months or longer without a cycle she should contact her healthcare provider for evaluation. 

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