March 3, 2003 at 8:23 PM CST - Updated June 19 at 1:46 PM
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is quite common among women with fertility problems, but not a disease that's diagnosed as fast as it could be. It is easy to diagnose, but if it's not taken care of, it can make it impossible for a woman to become pregnant and lead to serious health problems.
Lisa Adams knew she had a problem pretty early on. "Basically I didn't get a period unless I was on birth control pills," she says. Like her mother, Lisa was suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome, or pcos. It's a hormonal disorder where cysts form in the ovaries, preventing ovulation making pregnancy impossible. Overwhelmed, Lisa found a doctor who could help. "I remember very clearly, coming into his office. I sat down and just started to cry," she says.
Dr. Marcelo Barrionuevo says pcos though common is not commonly talked about. In fact most women with pcos, don't even know they have it and find out only when they have trouble starting a family. Dr. Barrionuevo says, "The lack of ovulation is going to have two consequences, one is no periods, irregular periods or very sporadic periods, and also infertility."
Other than irregular or absent periods, many women with pcos are overweight or obese. They often have excessive facial hair and acne. Pcos can also be associated with dangerous medical conditions like diabetes and hypertension. It may even lead to cancer. Dr. Barrioneuvo says, "If they build that endometrial lining with too much estrogen and they don't get periods every two to three months, they could develop a condition called endometrial hyperplasia, or endometrial cancer."
The diagnosis is usually made by ultrasound and simple blood tests, and there is treatment available. For women who don't want to get pregnant, birth control pills correct most of the problem and restore menstruation. Drugs, often in combination with in-vitro fertilization can even return fertility, as in Lisa's case. She's now enjoying motherhood.
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