Skip to content

    Women's Health

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    A Mysterious Ailment

    By
    WebMD Feature

    Nov. 27, 2000 -- By the age of 40, Lahle Henninger says she'd had only five naturally occurring menstrual periods in her entire life. She's since had more, but only with the help of hormone supplements. For years, this Virginia mother of four also suffered from excess facial and body hair, severe acne, and tremendous weight gain. What was causing such bodily mayhem? None of the nearly 20 doctors she consulted could come up with a diagnosis, let alone a solution.

    Then, at 27, she sought help for a minor sinus infection. When Henninger told her doctor about her other problems, "She looked at me and said, 'You can't go two years without a period; that means something's wrong.'" The doctor ordered blood tests, a sonogram to check Henninger's ovaries, and the opinion of an endocrinologist. One week later, Henninger received the diagnosis: polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

    Recommended Related to Women

    Martha Stewart Comes Clean

    By Jenny Allen The domestic diva opens up about the pain in her past, the love in her life, and how she bounced back big time. Martha Stewart takes a forkful of lemon pie and savors it. "Isn't this good?" she asks in that trademark low, plummy voice. We're lunching in her office at the Manhattan TV studio where she's just finished hosting a live broadcast of The Martha Stewart Show, her Emmy award-winning daily program. She sits at one end of the sleek rectangular table that...

    Read the Martha Stewart Comes Clean article > >

    The story gets worse: Researchers are now finding that women with PCOS are at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, uterine cancer, and high blood pressure. For example, researchers reported in the January 1999 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism that these women are three times more likely to develop diabetes. At an annual meeting of endocrinologists this past June, researchers presented evidence suggesting that PCOS speeds the development of heart disease. This evidence brings an urgency to discovering better ways to diagnose and treat the syndrome, according to PCOS expert Walter Futterweit, MD, since he says that up to 10% of all U.S. women of reproductive age suffer from this often devastating condition.

    The mystery of PCOS

    What accounts for the lack of periods and other symptoms? Women with PCOS have excessively high levels of male hormones, such as testosterone. The result: Henninger's facial hair and the 278 pounds circling her midsection -- the "apple shape" associated with a propensity for heart disease. Testosterone overload can also lead to infertility or recurrent miscarriages, male pattern hair thinning, and sometimes multiple cysts on the ovaries. And, as evidenced by the irregular periods, women with PCOS don't regularly ovulate.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    hands on abdomen
    Test your knowledge.
    womans hand on abdomen
    Are you ready for baby?
     
    birth control pills
    Learn about your options.
    insomnia
    Is it menopause or something else?
     
    woman in bathtub
    Slideshow
    period
    VIDEO
     
    bp app on smartwatch and phone
    Slideshow
    estrogen gene
    Quiz
     

    Send yourself a link to download the app.

    Loading ...

    Please wait...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    Thanks!

    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    Blood pressure check
    Slideshow
    hot water bottle on stomach
    Quiz
     
    question
    Assessment
    Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror
    Quiz