Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic (pah-lee-SIS-tik) ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a health problem that can affect a woman's:
- Menstrual cycle
- Ability to have children
- Blood vessels
With PCOS, women typically have:
- High levels of androgens (AN-druh-junz). These are sometimes called male hormones, though females also make them.
- Missed or irregular periods (monthly bleeding)
- Many small cysts (sists) (fluid-filled sacs) in their ovaries
Causes of PCOS
The cause of PCOS is unknown. But most experts think that several factors, including genetics, could play a role. Women with PCOS are more likely to have a mother or sister with PCOS.
A main underlying problem with PCOS is a hormonal imbalance. In women with PCOS, the ovaries make more androgens than normal. Androgens are male hormones that females also make. High levels of these hormones affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation.
Researchers also think insulin may be linked to PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that controls the change of sugar, starches, and other food into energy for the body to use or store. Many women with PCOS have too much insulin in their bodies because they have problems using it. Excess insulin appears to increase production of androgen. High androgen levels can lead to:
- Excessive hair growth
- Weight gain
- Problems with ovulation
Symptoms of PCOS
The symptoms of PCOS can vary from woman to woman. Some of the symptoms of PCOS include:
- Infertility (not able to get pregnant) because of not ovulating. In fact, PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility.
- Infrequent, absent, and/or irregular menstrual periods
- Hirsutism (HER-suh-tiz-um) — increased hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, back, thumbs, or toes
- Cysts on the ovaries
- Acne, oily skin, or dandruff
- Weight gain or obesity, usually with extra weight around the waist
- Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
- Patches of skin on the neck, arms, breasts, or thighs that are thick and dark brown or black
- Skin tags — excess flaps of skin in the armpits or neck area
- Pelvic pain
- Anxiety or depression
- Sleep apnea — when breathing stops for short periods of time while asleep
PCOS complications prevention
If you have PCOS, get your symptoms under control at an earlier age to help reduce your chances of having complications like diabetes and heart disease. Talk to your doctor about treating all your symptoms, rather than focusing on just one aspect of your PCOS, such as problems getting pregnant. Also, talk to your doctor about getting tested for diabetes regularly. Other steps you can take to lower your chances of health problems include:
- Eating right
- Not smoking
Emotional effects of PCOS
Having PCOS can be difficult. You may feel:
- Embarrassed by your appearance
- Worried about being able to get pregnant
Getting treatment for PCOS can help with these concerns and help boost your self-esteem. You are not alone and there are resources available for women with PCOS.
Read more information from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health