Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine condition among women of reproductive age. Its typical symptoms include irregular to no periods, hair growth in places you don’t want it (hirsuitism), cystic acne, and weight gain. It’s important to know that PCOS extends beyond your cycle and your face as it can create havoc your entire life in many different body systems, particularly your cardiovascular system.
Many practitioners will run basic tests to determine if you have PCOS, including a pelvic ultrasound to see if you have cysts on your ovaries. Once you have been given a positive diagnosis, it’s important to follow-up with other, more in-depth tests, for your long-term health.
1) Fasting insulin – insulin and glucose go together. You need insulin to get glucose into cells to be used as energy. It is commonly elevated in women with PCOS and can cause an increase in testosterone leading to hirsuitism and acne. Insulin also contributes greatly to weight gain in the apple shape and can lead to metabolic syndrome.
2) Fasting Triglycerides – this is a marker of fat consumption in your diet. Elevated triglycerides are due to high fat, high carbohydrate, high sugar diets. This can lead to atherosclerosis and heart disease as well as obesity. The American Heart Association likes your numbers under 150 mg/dl however I act preventively and recommend under 100 mg/dl. As your triglycerides increase, your insulin usually does too.
3) High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) – this is part of your cholesterol panel. The HDL is considered your “good” cholesterol because it takes cholesterol from your body and carries it back to your liver for processing. It pulls the cholesterol out of your bloodstream reducing your risk for heart disease. You want this level to be above 50 mg/dl for protection sake especially with all of the heart risk of PCOS.
4) 2-hour glucose tolerance test – This test requires a little wait time at the lab, exactly a 2 hour wait. First your fasting glucose level is drawn, and then you are given a measured drink and wait 2 hours to retest your glucose. Abnormalities in this test may show an underlying glucose problem leading to elevated insulin, obesity, diabetes and heart disease risk.
5) Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone and DHEA-S – hormone balance is critical to helping PCOS. Have your health care practitioner run a full, in-depth panel in order to ensure your estrogen, free testosterone and DHEA aren’t too high, while your progesterone is too low.