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Medical Conditions Doctors Miss

So you're sleepy a lot and maybe a little blue, and your blood pressure is on the high side. It could be stress, or these and other common symptoms could be signs of serious medical conditions that doctors sometimes overlook.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal imbalance that affects 5% to 10% of premenopausal women, disrupting normal ovulation and boosting male hormone levels. PCOS can lead to serious reproductive, metabolic, and cardiovascular problems.

Symptoms include:

  • Irregular or no menstruation
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Excess hair on the face, neck, chest, abdomen, thumbs, or toes
  • Acne
  • Dandruff
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Infertility
  • Diabetes
  • Increased risk of certain cancers such as those of the uterine lining

Experts say many women with PCOS go undiagnosed until they have fertility problems, although data on how many are lacking.

"We know that a large number of women aren't diagnosed with PCOS because one of the major symptoms of it, which is irregular menstrual cycles, often isn't considered to be a serious symptom," says Andrea Dunaif, MD, president-elect of The Endocrine Society and chief endocrinologist at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Illinois. "Also, about a third of the women don't have another classic symptom of it, which is excessive hair growth."

Women often don't bring up symptoms to the doctor because the problems could be seen as commonplace or cosmetic. Even if women do discuss symptoms, some doctors may not know what to do with the information, says Dunaif. She notes that many primary care physicians, gynecologists, and dermatologists -- doctors patients usually turn to for problems related to PCOS -- do not have a lot of training and experience in the subject of medical reproductive endocrinology. Although awareness of PCOS has gotten better over the years, she says many doctors still are not comfortable talking about reproductive or hormonal disorders.

Patients who think they may have PCOS could help doctors and themselves by reading information about the disorder and by being direct and specific about their concern to doctors.

"There are tons of women out there who are going to places like WebMD, diagnosing themselves, and saying to their doctors, 'I think I have PCOS. I have the symptoms," says Dunaif. "If your periods are irregular, that absolutely has to be evaluated by a physician. You need to know what the cause is."

The sooner PCOS is diagnosed, the better chances are of reducing the risk of complications such as heart disease, diabetes, infertility, and endometrial cancer.

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

The kidneys are amazing organs that filter waste from the bloodstream and keep the body chemically balanced. If waste is not properly filtered, it can collect in the blood and can affect almost every system in the body.

Chronic kidney disease occurs when the kidney's filtering capacity becomes permanently damaged. Deterioration of this capacity can happen within months or within decades. Fortunately, the body is able to live with some diminished kidney function, or with just one kidney.

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