Using telemedicine to help PCOS
To diagnose PCOS, you must meet the criteria of two or more of the following symptoms: irregular periods or no periods at all; difficulty getting pregnant as a result of irregular ovulation or no ovulation; excess hair growth usually on the face, chest, back or bottom; weight gain; thinning hair or hair loss; oily skin or acne; polycystic ovaries (enlarged ovaries that may contain fluid-filled sacs that surround the eggs.

SEPTEMBER is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) month. PCOS is a common illness that affects the way that a woman's ovaries work. It is typically characterised by symptoms of the reproductive system and often women come across this diagnosis because they are trying to treat an isolated symptom such as irregular periods and/or infertility. It is unclear what the actual cause of PCOS is but it is believed to run in families.

It is expected that there is a high number of women living with PCOS but have been undiagnosed. Therefore, it is hard to have an accurate number of how many women really are living with PCOS. It is estimated, however, that one in 10 women of reproductive age have PCOS. This makes it one of the most common hormonal disorders in the world for women. As more people become increasingly aware of this illness and its appearance, more women are being diagnosed and properly treated with PCOS.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

PCOS is difficult to diagnose because it affects so many different bodily systems. There is no specific test to diagnose PCOS, therefore a diagnosis requires that you meet the criteria of two or more of the following symptoms.

• Irregular periods or no periods at all

• Difficulty getting pregnant as a result of irregular ovulation or no ovulation

• Excess hair growth usually on the face, chest, back or bottom

• Weight gain

• Thinning hair or hair loss

• Oily skin or acne

• Polycystic ovaries (enlarged ovaries that may contain fluid-filled sacs that surround the eggs

PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in women and many women only discover they have the syndrome when they are unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant. With treatment, however, women who have been diagnosed with PCOS are still able to get pregnant.

Symptoms may vary from mild to severe in different women. However, what makes PCOS increasingly challenging to diagnose is that many women do not have any of the above symptoms. This means they are either misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.

Can I get tested for PCOS?

As mentioned above, there is no specific test available to test for PCOS. However, if you do consult with your doctor and they suspect you may have PCOS, there are tests that can be done to narrow in on your diagnosis. One of these tests includes a blood test to assess your testosterone and androgen hormone levels to see if they may be elevated. Additionally, your status can be determined by an ultrasound and hormone studies which assess whether or not you have any abnormalities on your ovaries.

Can PCOS be cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for PCOS, but thankfully, experts have found ways to ensure that your symptoms can be managed and you can live a normal, healthy and comfortable life.

If you have PCOS and are overweight, losing weight and living a healthy life with a balanced diet can help make some symptoms better and easier to manage. Additionally, some medications can be used to treat excessive hair growth, irregular periods and fertility issues.

Living with PCOS can put you at risk of developing further health complications later in life. Women with PCOS may develop:

• Type 2 diabetes

• Mental health issues (such as depression, anxiety & mood swings)

• High blood pressure and high cholesterol (which can further put you at risk for heart disease and stroke)

• Sleep apnoea (particularly for patients who are overweight, they may have issues with irregular breathing when they sleep)

How can telemedicine aid in the treatment of PCOS?

Telemedicine is useful for a variety of issues within health care. However, a great benefit of telemedicine is how it makes collaboration and connectivity easy in your diagnosis and treatment. PCOS affects many different parts of women's health and thus is often a collaborative diagnosis across various medical disciplines. Therefore, throughout the consultation and treatment phase, you will be able to consult with your gynaecologist, endocrinologist, dermatologist and even a licensed therapist. Gaining access to all these health practitioners will aid you in the hassle of visiting all of these offices in person and will also make it easier for these doctors to work together and share information easier to get you a fulsome diagnosis quickly and efficiently.

Additionally, if you have already been diagnosed with PCOS, this is a lifelong illness that will require long-term treatment and observation. You will be able to reach out to your doctor at your convenience. This may include filling out prescriptions, speaking to your doctor about concerns or even just for routine check-ins to monitor your PCOS. If you do have any of the above symptoms and are concerned that you may have PCOS, reaching out to a doctor via telemedicine to consult if you need any further treatment to assess your diagnosis is a great first step.

In addition to getting tested via telemedicine, MDLink has physical locations that facilitate getting lab tests done as well as seeing an on-site doctor. Therefore, if a consultation with your doctor was done on-site at the MDLink Drive-Thru or online has led to a suggestion to test your hormone levels, they can send over a lab sheet and you can get a blood test done in the comfort and convenience of your car via the MDLink Drive-Thru.

Living with PCOS may make parts of your life more difficult, but telemedicine is here to ensure your life is made more convenient while never compromising on the level of care and treatment you receive.

Dr Ché Bowen, a digital health entrepreneur and family physician, is the CEO & founder of MDLink, a digital health company that provides telemedicine options. Check out the company's website at www.theMDLink.com. You can also contact him at drchebowen@themdlink.com.

Dr Ché Bowen

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