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Dear Dr Mitchell,
Are there any physical signs of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) that I can look out for in a teenager, without getting a doctor's diagnosis? I read somewhere that women with wider shoulders (triangular shape) and hair on the face and chest are likely to have PCOS, as are those with irregular periods. My 17-year-old matches this description and I want to know if I should be worried.
Polycystic ovarian disease is a common problem in woman. It is a condition that is associated with irregular menstrual periods, weight gain, difficulty becoming pregnant, excessive hair growth on the face, chest and abdomen, male-pattern type baldness (hair loss), an enlarged clitoris, and sometimes hoarseness of the voice.
Acne of the face, chest, back, and arms may also be seen in some women.
Women with polycystic ovarian disease are also at increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus. The higher the weight gain the greater the risk of developing diabetes mellitus.
The problem is that ovulation does not occur or occurs infrequently, and as such the ovaries become very bulky and produce excess male hormone (testosterone). This is the hormone that is responsible for all the male pattern type of changes that are classic for this problem.
Sometimes acne and excessive facial hair might be present and are not due to polycystic ovarian disease. However, it is safer to do the investigations to confirm the problem. This includes a hormone profile and a blood glucose test, in addition to a pelvic ultrasound to look at the ovaries.
The mainstay in controlling the symptoms is to lose weight and achieve your ideal weight for height. This will help to reduce the risk for diabetes mellitus in later life.
Diet and exercise will also help in maintaining your ideal weight for height. The use of Metformin and hormones to reduce the excessive male hormones will also help to reduce the symptoms, control acne, and decrease the excessive hair growth. This will also improve the chances of becoming pregnant in the long term.
Consult your doctor, who will advise you further.
Dr Sharmaine Mitchell is an obstetrician and gynaecologist. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org ; write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Ave, Kingston 5; or fax to 876-968-2025. All responses are published. Dr Mitchell cannot provide personal responses.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to medical advice or treatment from your own doctor.