By Ashleigh Mattern
Megan and her husband tried for years to
have children. A physician herself,
Megan (not her real name) thought she might have a
hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome
(PCOS), the leading cause of infertility in women.
But because Megan wasn’t exhibiting the usual symptoms of obesity and extra hair growth, her doctor discounted the possibility of PCOS. The disorder, which affects about six to 10 per cent of all women, interferes with egg production.
It wasn’t until Megan saw a poster about a University of Saskatchewan research study on female infertility and decided to enroll that she learned she did indeed have PCOS.
In healthy women, eggs develop inside follicles— small fluid-filled cysts—with one egg being released each month. In PCOS, more cysts collect, creating an excess of male hormones that prevents the egg’s release. The syndrome often eludes doctors because its traditional telltale signs—male-pattern hair growth and obesity—don’t always appear in women with PCOS.
Many of the more than 1.4 million Canadian women believed to have the syndrome are unaware they have it, mainly due to difficulty in diagnosing it.
In fact, most women remain unaware they have PCOS until they seek infertility treatment from a reproductive specialist. Since the syndrome increases risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer, delaying diagnosis and treatment can lead to a host of health problems.
U of S researchers Roger Pierson and clinician Dr. Donna Chizen—who jointly ran the study to which Megan responded—are finding better ways to diagnose PCOS.
Signs (Two of three needed to diagnose PCOS)
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