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Health Information | 10/12/2023

Navigating the Maze of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

By  Dr. Beth Plante
woman sitting at window with coffee

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common but often misunderstood hormonal disorder that affects millions of individuals worldwide, particularly those in their reproductive years. Its prevalence is staggering, with estimates suggesting that up to 10% of women of childbearing age are affected. Despite its widespread impact, PCOS remains a complex and frequently undiagnosed condition.

Understanding PCOS: What Is It?

PCOS is a multifaceted condition characterized by a range of symptoms and hormonal imbalances. While its exact cause remains unknown, it typically involves a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.

Here are some of the key aspects of PCOS:

Hormonal Imbalance

PCOS involves an imbalance in sex hormones, particularly elevated levels of androgens (male hormones) like testosterone. This can lead to symptoms such as acne, excess facial and body hair, and irregular menstrual cycles.

Ovulatory Dysfunction

Many individuals with PCOS experience irregular or absent ovulation (the release of eggs from the ovaries). This can make it challenging to conceive for those trying to get pregnant.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a common feature of PCOS. It means your body's cells don't respond effectively to insulin, leading to high levels of insulin in the blood. This can contribute to weight gain, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and difficulty losing weight.

Metabolic Complications

PCOS is associated with an increased risk of metabolic issues like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.

PCOS Symptoms: What to Look For

Symptoms of PCOS can vary widely among individuals, making diagnosis challenging. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles or missed periods
  • Excessive hair growth (hirsutism)
  • Acne and oily skin
  • Scalp hair thinning or male-pattern baldness
  • Weight gain, especially around the abdomen
  • Darkening of the skin, especially in skin folds
  • Mood swings and depression

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing PCOS involves a combination of medical history assessment, physical examination, blood tests, and sometimes ultrasound imaging of the ovaries. Once diagnosed, treatment approaches are tailored to individual needs.

Here are some common strategies:

Lifestyle Modifications

  • Diet: A balanced diet that helps manage insulin levels
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity to aid weight management and improve insulin sensitivity


  • Birth Control Pills: To regulate menstrual cycles and manage androgen levels
  • Anti-Androgen Medications: To reduce symptoms like hirsutism and acne
  • Metformin: A medication that helps improve insulin sensitivity

Fertility Treatments

For those trying to conceive, fertility treatments such as ovulation-inducing medications or assisted reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be recommended.

Living Well with PCOS

Living with PCOS requires a holistic approach. It's not just about managing symptoms; it's about overall health and well-being.

Here are some tips for thriving with PCOS:

  • Regular Monitoring: Stay in touch with your healthcare provider for regular check-ups and adjustments to your treatment plan.
  • Healthy Diet: Focus on a balanced diet rich in whole foods, fiber, and lean proteins. Avoid excessive sugar and refined carbs.
  • Physical Activity: Incorporate regular exercise into your routine to improve insulin sensitivity and support weight management.
  • Stress Management: High stress levels can worsen PCOS symptoms. Explore stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga.
  • Support Network: Connect with support groups or seek therapy if needed. Sharing your experiences and concerns with others can be immensely helpful.

PCOS is a multifaceted condition that requires a tailored approach to management. With the right strategies, support, and understanding, individuals with PCOS can lead healthy and fulfilling lives. If you have more questions on PCOS or need help navigating this challenging but manageable condition, we are here to help. 


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Beth Plante

About The Author

Dr. Beth Plante

Dr. Beth Plante is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. She received her medical degree from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and completed her residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. She then completed fellowship training in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Her clinical and research interests include infertility, diminished ovarian reserve, primary ovarian insufficiency and polycystic ovary syndrome. Dr. Plante has been the winner of numerous teaching and clinical awards, including the Berlex Best Teaching Resident Award, Fellow Teaching Award, Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award, Patients’ Choice Award, and Compassionate Doctor Recognition. Dr. Plante is a member of many professional associations including the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the Society for Gynecologic Investigation, and the New England Fertility Society. In her free time, Dr. Plante loves spending time with her family, running, and learning to ski again after a 15 year hiatus.

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