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When Your Teenager Has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Outline of female pelvis showing vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Closeup of cross section of normal ovary. Closeup of cross section of polycystic ovary. Your daughter has been diagnosed with a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is an imbalance of hormones. It affects the ovaries (the organs that store a woman’s eggs), but can also affect the rest of the body. PCOS can lead to serious health issues if not treated. Treatment can’t cure the problem, but it helps reduce symptoms and prevent health problems.

What Is PCOS?

Androgens are a type of hormone (chemical messenger in the body). They are often called “male” hormones, but women make and use some of these hormones also. Girls and women with PCOS have much higher levels of androgens than normal. This can lead to changes in the body that include:

  • Multiple cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in the ovaries

  • Missed periods, irregular periods, or very light periods

  • Increased body hair growth

  • Weight gain

  • Worsened acne and dandruff Pharmacist talking to woman and girl at pharmacy counter.

  • Thickened or darkened skin patches

Because of the hormone changes, women with PCOS are more likely to develop certain serious health problems. These include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and problems with the heart and blood vessels. Women with PCOS often have problems with their fertility (ability to get pregnant).

What Causes PCOS?

A girl may be more likely to get it if a parent or sibling has the condition. But the exact cause of PCOS is not known.

How Is PCOS Diagnosed?

There is no one test that can diagnose PCOS. A medical history, physical exam, and blood tests help give the diagnosis. A pelvic exam may be done. Other tests, such as a vaginal or pelvic ultrasound, may also be done.

How Is PCOS Treated?

Medication is the most common treatment for PCOS. Medications affect the body’s hormone levels. The most common medications used to treat PCOS include:

  • Oral contraceptive pills, which contain a combination of female hormones. They can help bring hormones back into balance and reduce or eliminate symptoms. (A teen does not have to be sexually active to take oral contraceptives.)

  • Metformin, a diabetes medication that has been shown to help with PCOS symptoms.

  • Antiandrogens, medications that can help reverse the effects of male hormones. They help reduce hair growth and clear acne. They are often combined with oral contraceptives.

In addition to medication, regular exercise and healthy eating can help manage PCOS. PCOS makes losing weight much harder. But losing even a little weight can help reduce some PCOS symptoms. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider for more information on weight loss and PCOS.

Working with the Healthcare Provider

Since there is no cure for PCOS, it’s important to manage your child’s condition. Keep in touch with your child’s healthcare provider. Be honest with the healthcare provider about how the treatment is going and how your daughter is responding. Mention if you notice any new changes. And take your daughter for regular follow-up visits to ensure that any health problems are caught and managed.

Resources

  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association

    www.pcosupport.org

  • Girls Health.gov

    www.girlshealth.gov/parents/parentsbody/pcos_educators.cfm

  • The Hormone Foundation

    www.hormone.org/public/polycystic.cfm

  • Center for Young Women’s Health

    www.youngwomenshealth.org

 

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