Excessive weight gain, acne, hirsutism, thinning hair, irregular menstrual cycles and insulin insensitivity – these are some of the symptoms of polycystic ovary sydrome (PCOS), the most common reproductive condition in women and a risk factor for a plethora of metabolic diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as infertility. It affects between 3% and 15% of women, who often wait years for a diagnosis, visiting numerous clinicians in the process.[i]
That’s changed for the young women of Alabama since pediatric endocrinologist Christy A. Foster, MD, started a multidisciplinary clinic in 2020 for adolescents with PCOS.
“Our goal is to try to improve the care patients receive in a more holistic manner,” she said. The clinic’s foundation is a multidisciplinary team that includes Foster, a pediatric gynecologist, a dermatologist, a social worker and family counselor, and a nutritionist.
Many of these young women have been seen multiple times by their primary care doctor before they’re referred. “Coming to the clinic enables them to put a voice to what’s wrong—a feeling that they’re understood—which can be helpful,” Foster said. The multidisciplinary approach also provides expertise from several different providers. “That certainly helps with their care because otherwise they might have to make several different appointments and take more time to travel.” And most are just glad to have a home with providers who have expertise with PCOS.
The physical manifestations of PCOS create a challenge at a particularly difficult time for young women, Foster said. “Their peers notice they ‘look different,’” she said. “That’s certainly a challenge for them from a mental health perspective.” That’s why it’s so important that the team includes counseling and mental health.
The Children’s clinic is one of only a limited number in the country, which is one reason Foster felt strongly about starting it. “I wanted to improve access to care in our region and address the patient as a whole person,” she said.
The team tailors treatment to address the patient’s greatest concerns, be it pre-diabetes, facial hair, severe acne or other repercussions of PCOS. “My hope is that when we start them on treatment, they feel their concerns are being addressed and heard and understood,” Foster said. Treatment options include birth control pills to regulate their menstrual cycles, an insulin sensitizer such as metformin, laser hair treatment and androgen receptor blockers.
Another advantage of the clinic is that the team can follow the women longitudinally and, hopefully, prevent some of the metabolic conditions they’re at risk for.
After clinic, the team holds a debrief to discuss the patient as a whole, “There is a benefit to having everyone in the same place,” Foster said. “It improves communication.”
The clinic is held once a quarter, although patients may see individual providers at other times. Since it began, about 50 young women have been seen, with about six to eight seen during each half-day clinic. “But certainly we’re looking to grow,” Foster said.
[i] Gibson-Helm M, Teede H, Dunaif A, Dokras A. Delayed Diagnosis and a Lack of Information Associated With Dissatisfaction in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2017;102(2):604-612. doi:10.1210/jc.2016-2963