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How Unwanted Hair Can Be Related to Problems in Your Reproductive System

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How Unwanted Hair Can Be Related to Problems in Your Reproductive System

Aug 05, 2015
One in ten women have polycystic ovarian syndrome, a disorder that can cause irregular periods, abnormal hair growth, and fertility problems. But many women have it and don’t even know about it. Dr. Joseph Stanford talks about what causes this common disorder and its symptoms. He also discusses how you can get treated for it.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome causes irregular periods, unwanted hair growth, sometimes weight gain and infertility, but it's very treatable with lifestyle and medication. We'll examine the condition and what you can do if you think you have it coming up next on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a common but under-recognized disease. It is very treatable and we're going to learn more about it from Dr. Joseph Stanford. He's with the University of Utah Healthcare. First of all, what is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?

Dr. Stanford: Well, the main features of the syndrome really don't have anything to do with the ovaries: irregular periods, unwanted hair growth on the face or other parts of the body and then there are multiple small cysts on the ovaries and that's where the name comes from. Women only have to have two of those three to have the condition.

Interviewer: Oh, okay. When does it usually come on in a woman's life? Could it come on young, old, anytime?

Dr. Stanford: Usually young So women who have it will usually develop it in the teen years.

Interviewer: And is it literally at one point all of a sudden you start getting some hair growth?

Dr. Stanford: It could be more gradual. I wouldn't say it's sudden overnight.

Interviewer: Okay. And typically, where do you find that hair growth?

Dr. Stanford: On the face. So women who have to pluck and remove hair on the face and sometimes other parts like the chest or belly that's unwanted hair growth.

Interviewer: How common is it? How many women get this?

Dr. Stanford: So Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome as a whole is about 10% of women and that would be similar numbers for the unwanted hair growth. There can be other causes of that as well. It's not the only cause.

Interviewer: All right. And why is it unrecognized?

Dr. Stanford: I think women, if they've heard anything about it, they think about cysts on the ovaries. And that's, like I said before, not the main feature of the condition. It's one of the three pieces and not one that women know about unless they've had an ultrasound or something like that. The public is not generally aware that this syndrome involves these other problems, severe irregular menstrual flows, irregular periods and unwanted hair growth.

Interviewer: And what causes it?

Dr. Stanford: So what we know now is that it has a lot to do with insulin resistance. Sort kind of like a pre-diabetic condition where women don't use insulin quite as well and the ovaries don't respond to insulin quite as well and that causes hormonal imbalances like the excess male hormones that cause hair growth and the irregular periods.

Interviewer: And why is it bad?

Dr. Stanford: Certainly it can cause problems with the unwanted hair growth and it can make it harder for women to lose weight or make them gain weight that they don't want to. In the long run, it can give them a higher risk of diabetes and other complications that come from diabetes like heart disease.

Interviewer: Are there any other effects other than the symptoms that could be negative on a woman's body?

Dr. Stanford: Certainly, it can cause infertility for women who are at the point they want to get pregnant. This can be an issue. So it's definitely something to pay attention to and treat for better health.

Interviewer: And what are some of the treatments?

Dr. Stanford: Briefly, I'd say treatments include diet and medications.

Interviewer: Oh, okay. And does it go completely away?

Dr. Stanford: It can be managed to where it's pretty much not a problem.

Interviewer: All right. And what about the cysts? Do they just go away as well?

Dr. Stanford: They often get better as well.

Interviewer: Without surgery?

Dr. Stanford: Right.

Interviewer: Oh, well that's probably a relief for a lot of women.

Dr. Stanford: Right.

Dr. Stanford: Surgery usually is not necessary.

Interviewer: Okay. Outstanding. So are there any final thoughts you have? Is there a question I forgot to ask or anything you feel compelled to say?

Dr. Stanford: I would just say for women who have irregular periods or unwanted hair growth should get it checked out and not just think, "That's the way I am. I have to deal with it." And we're here to answer any questions. Happy to be of help.

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