Relatively unheard of by many, yet the leading cause of infertility among women, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) remains largely undiagnosed. It’s a problem that Sarah Hutto, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, says can be attributed to some physicians’ lack of training in recognizing the condition.

“PCOS patients, very often, do not receive the comprehensive analysis and care that they need for an accurate diagnosis and to ensure that they have the opportunity to optimize their health as much as possible,” Dr. Hutto said. “That is what I encourage my learners to know — the importance of looking at the patient as a whole and not just a specific diagnosis.”

Her learners — both medical students and residents at the Medical School — participate in patient visits, sit-in on didactic lectures and take part in case-based learning, all involving PCOS. She uses these opportunities to introduce the condition to her learners, training them to recognize the early warning signs of PCOS and educating them on the right evaluation methods.

“It’s important to understand that it’s more than just, ‘she’s having irregular periods and she has some hair growth issues,’” Dr. Hutto said. “We also talk about the associated metabolic syndrome that can come with PCOS and how often they need to screen for lipid abnormalities, do a diabetes screening, check on the patient’s mental health, evaluate for sleep disorders and do blood pressure checks. It’s really important to know how to do that evaluation because PCOS can not only affect a woman’s gynecological health but can also have significant impacts for their overall health.”

PCOS is known to be a precursor to heart disease and diabetes, even endometrial cancer. More and more, the condition affects patients who are obese. Yet, other cases exist where patients have healthy body mass indexes and no medical complications associated with PCOS.

“Research is showing that there are differing sectors of women who have PCOS. This is an area of study today, and likely, these two groups of patients would benefit from two different kinds of therapies,” Dr. Hutto said. “This only stresses the importance of proper evaluation, and I’m training our learners to really take ownership of that and to ensure their patients get the appropriate care they need.”

Because PCOS can be disheartening and frightening for patients, Dr. Hutto also trains medical students and residents how to open that conversation with patients after confirming their PCOS diagnosis. She says knowing a patient’s plan for pregnancy is important since some treatment options can impact fertility.

“Fertility ends up being the big factor when we start talking about treatment. We want to make sure we let them know that there are ways that we can help them with that in the future, if needed,” she said. “Some of our learners’ favorite experiences are seeing patients who were diagnosed with PCOS come back with a successful pregnancy. For us, seeing the joy that those patients have for being able to get pregnant, when it was something they were struggling with  before, it’s always really great.”

Dr. Hutto is also an obstetrician/gynecologist at M Health Fairview Women’s Clinic - Minneapolis. To schedule an appointment, please call 612‑273‑7111.