Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is
a set of symptoms caused by a problem with a woman’s hormones. It affects the ovaries.
These are the small organs that store a woman’s eggs. But it can also affect the rest of
the body. PCOS is a very common condition in women of childbearing age. In some cases,
it can lead to serious health issues if not treated.
Ovulation happens when a mature egg
is released from an ovary. This happens so it can be fertilized by a male sperm. If the
egg is not fertilized, it is sent out of the body during your period.
In some cases, a woman doesn’t make enough of the hormones needed to ovulate. When ovulation doesn’t happen, the ovaries can develop many small fluid-filled sacs (cysts). These cysts make hormones called androgens. Androgens are a type of male hormone, but women normally have them in smaller amounts. Women with PCOS often have high levels of androgens. This can cause more problems with a woman’s menstrual cycle. And it can cause many of the symptoms of PCOS.
Treatment for PCOS is often done with medicine. This can’t cure PCOS, but it helps reduce symptoms and prevent some health problems.
What causes PCOS?
Doctors don’t know the exact cause
of PCOS. Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance. This means the body can’t use
insulin well. Insulin levels build up in the body and may cause higher androgen levels.
Obesity can also increase insulin levels and make PCOS symptoms worse.
PCOS may also run in families. It’s common for sisters or a mother and daughter to have PCOS.
Who is at risk for PCOS?
You may be more likely to have PCOS if your mother or sister has it. You may also be more likely to have it if you have insulin resistance or are obese.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
The symptoms of PCOS may include:
- Missed periods, irregular periods, or very light periods
- Ovaries that are large or have many cysts
- Extra body hair, including the chest,
stomach, and back (hirsutism)
- Weight gain, especially around the belly
- Acne or oily skin
- Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
- Small pieces of extra skin on the neck
or armpits (skin tags)
- Dark or thick skin patches on the back of the neck, in the armpits, and under the breasts
How is PCOS diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask
about your health history and your symptoms. You will also have a physical exam. This
will likely include a pelvic exam. This exam checks the health of your reproductive
organs, both inside and outside your body.
Some of the symptoms of PCOS are like those caused by other health problems. Because of this, you may also have tests such as:
- Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. This test is used to look at the size of the ovaries and see if they have cysts. The test can also look at the thickness of the lining of the uterus (endometrium).
- Blood tests. These look for high levels of androgens and other hormones. Your healthcare provider may also check your blood glucose levels. And you may have your cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked.