What is PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome(PCOS)?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (or PCOS) is a common hormonal condition in which women produce a excess of androgens. This causes irregular ovulation, or even a lack of ovulation.

Androgens are often called “male hormones.” Men have very high levels of androgens, responsible for male body changes like hair growth and muscle mass. In women, androgens are necessary to make estrogen. Women with PCOS have androgen levels in the “high normal” range (for women). The additional androgen in these women can cause excessive hair growth and acne.

Excess androgen production also leads to irregular or absent ovulation, which women experience as irregular or absent menstrual periods. Because of the problems with ovulation, women with PCOS may have difficulty becoming pregnant. PCOS affects one of every 10 women.

Cause of PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome?

The causes of PCOS are not completely understood, but it is likely an inherited condition.

Signs and Symptoms of PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome?

Women with PCOS can have a wide spectrum of signs and symptoms, from mild to severe. They may include:

  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Oily skin and acne
  • Darkening and thickening of certain areas of the skin, especially in skin folds of the neck, armpits, and groin
  • Excessive hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen, or thighs
  • Thinning of hair on the crown of the head
  • Obesity
  • Cardiovascular problems, including high cholesterol
  • Multiple tiny ovarian cysts; some women with PCOS have a large number of tiny follicle cysts (visible by ultrasound) on their ovaries.

How PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome is Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of PCOS is based on physical signs and symptoms. Blood tests can be used to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the course of treatment. Ultrasound is not useful for making the diagnosis of PCOS.

How Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is Treated?

Treatment options include:

  • Women not ready to become pregnant, birth control pills are an excellent way to replace progesterone, establish regular periods, and lower androgen levels.
  • If a woman wants to become pregnant, treatment is aimed at establishing regular ovulation.
  • For women with PCOS and insulin resistance, medication (such as metformin) to improve insulin sensitivity may be useful.

Is PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome Preventable?

While PCOS cannot be prevented or cured, it can be controlled, with varying degrees of success, by maintaining a healthy diet and by exercising. Many women will experience improvement in the signs and symptoms of PCOS if they are able to maintain a healthy weight.

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