How is PCOS diagnosed?
PCOS can be a complex condition to diagnose because there are many symptoms, and you don’t have to have all of them to be diagnosed with PCOS. Very few people have the same set of symptoms, and the symptoms can change at different stages of your life. To diagnose PCOS, your doctor will assess your symptoms, medical history and physical appearance. You may need to do some tests to confirm it and/or rule out other medical conditions.
Diagnostic criteria for PCOS
To make a diagnosis of PCOS, 2 out of 3 of the following are required:
1. Irregular periods or no periods.
2. Higher levels of testosterone, as shown by:
a blood test or symptoms such as:
excess body or facial hair
scalp hair loss.
3. Polycystic ovaries visible on ultrasound (only done if you have been having periods for 8 years or more).
If the first 2 criteria are both present, an ultrasound scan is not usually required.
How is PCOS managed?
While there is no cure for PCOS, with the right support you can greatly reduce the symptoms and long-term effects on your health. Because PCOS can have many symptoms, a range of treatments might be necessary to manage the condition well. The key to managing PCOS well is working in partnership with your healthcare team to find the best strategies for you. PCOS support groups can also be inviable sources of helpful information.
Managing PCOS with lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle has been shown to be the most effective approach to managing PCOS successfully and reducing the severity of symptoms. A healthy lifestyle includes eating a balanced and nutritious diet, being as active as possible, maintaining a healthy weight and minimising harmful habits such as smoking and excessive drinking.
Managing PCOS with medicines
Medication alone has not been shown to be any better than healthy lifestyle changes in managing PCOS. You may be able to successfully manage your symptoms and the long-term health risks without medical intervention.
There are a number of medicines used to manage the different symptoms of PCOS, including acne, excess hair growth, problems with your periods and fertility issues. Some medicines may help more than one symptom. PCOS affects everyone differently and, if required, your doctor will work out which medicines best meet your needs.
Managing your emotional wellbeing
PCOS can be a challenging condition to live with and it can affect your mental wellbeing. This may be due to a combination of hormonal influences and dealing with the symptoms of PCOS. It’s not uncommon to experience low self-esteem, poor self-image, anxiety and depression – all of which can affect your overall quality of life.
Having PCOS does not mean you can't get pregnant. PCOS is one of the most common, but treatable, causes of infertility. If you have PCOS, the hormonal imbalance interferes with the growth and release of eggs from your ovaries (ovulation). If you don't ovulate, you can't get pregnant. Your doctor or a fertility specialist can talk with you about ways to help you ovulate and to raise your chance of getting pregnant.
Managing excess hair
Sometimes excessive hair growth is best managed with both medical treatment and electrolysis or laser therapy. Your doctor can advise what’s best for you.
How can I reduce the risk of PCOS-related complications?
PCOS can increase your chances of developing health problems later in life, so you need to have regular medical check-ups. Some PCOS symptoms lessen after menopause, but this is likely to be the time many of the long-term associated conditions appear.
To reduce your risk of complications:
Follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly long before menopause ask your doctor at what age you should start having cardiovascular risk assessments and getting your blood pressure checked regularly.