What is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?
ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a condition in which a woman’s levels of the sex
hormones estrogen and progesterone are out of balance. This leads to the growth
of ovarian cysts (benign masses on the ovaries). PCOS can cause problems with a
women’s menstrual cycle, fertility, cardiac function, and appearance.
to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 women of childbearing age
suffers from PCOS. The condition currently affects up to 5
million women in the United States.
What causes PCOS?
the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, doctors believe that hormonal imbalances
and genetics play a role. Women are more likely to develop PCOS if their mother
or sister also has the condition.
of the hormone androgen may be another contributing factor. Androgen is a male
sex hormone that women’s bodies also produce. Women with PCOS often produce
higher-than-normal levels of androgen. This can affect the development and
release of eggs during ovulation. Excess insulin (a hormone that helps convert
sugars and starches into energy) may cause high androgen levels.
Symptoms of PCOS
of PCOS typically start soon after a woman begins to menstruate. The type and
severity of symptoms varies from person to person. The most common
characteristic of PCOS is irregular menstrual periods.
PCOS is marked by a decrease in female sex hormones, this condition may cause
women to develop certain male characteristics, such as:
hair on the face, chest, stomach, thumbs, or toes
in breast size
not symptoms of the disease, many women with PCOS have other concurrent health
problems, such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. These are
linked to the weight gain typical in PCOS patients.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
is no definitive test for PCOS. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will review
your medical history and symptoms and perform tests to rule out other possible
conditions. Your doctor will perform a physical and pelvic examination to look
for signs of PCOS, such as swollen ovaries or a swollen clitoris.
tests to measure hormone levels are typically ordered, as well as:
function tests to determine how much of the thyroid hormone your body produces
glucose tests to measure your blood sugar levels
level tests to assess the amount of cholesterol in your blood
vaginal ultrasound allows your gynecologist to create real time images of your
reproductive organs. A pelvic laparoscopy is a surgical procedure in which your
doctor makes a small incision in your abdomen and inserts a tiny camera to
check for growths on your ovaries. If growths are present, your doctor may take
a small tissue sample (biopsy) for further examination.
How is PCOS treated?
for PCOS is not curative. Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and
managing the condition to prevent complications. The treatment will vary from
woman to woman, depending on specific symptoms.
healthy diet and regular exercise is recommended for all women with PCOS,
particularly those who are overweight. This can help to regulate your menstrual
cycle and lower your blood glucose levels.
who don’t want to become pregnant may be prescribed birth control pills. These
can help treat acne, regulate the menstrual cycle, and lower levels of male
hormones, such as testosterone, in the body. If a woman with PCOS is suffering
from infertility, fertility drugs may be administered to aid in ovulation.
are drugs that reduce male hormone levels. These can help stop excess hair growth
and reduce acne. Diabetes medications may also be prescribed to lower blood
glucose and testosterone levels.
may be recommended for some women with PCOS. Ovarian drilling is a procedure in
which your doctor punctures your ovary with a small needle that carries an
electric current, in order to destroy part of the ovary. This is a short-term
solution that can promote ovulation and reduce male hormone levels.
What are the potential complications of PCOS?
with PCOS have a higher risk of developing:
(high blood pressure)
apnea (when a person stops breathing periodically during sleep)
cancer (cancer caused by thickening of the lining of the uterus)
you become pregnant, your doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in
high-risk pregnancies. Women with PCOS have a higher rate of miscarriage,
gestational diabetes, and premature delivery. They may need extra monitoring
earlier your PCOS is diagnosed and treated, the lower your risk of developing
these complications. Avoiding tobacco products and participating in regular
exercise can also reduce your risk of some of these comorbidities. Talk with your
doctor about what PCOS means for your overall health and how you can prevent