Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a very common hormonal disorder, affecting up to 12% of women of childbearing age. But not everyone is aware of the symptoms, long-term effects, and how PCOS can best be managed.
The disorder can cause irregular periods and make it harder to get pregnant. However, not all of the problems posed by PCOS are related to reproduction.
1. PCOS can trigger a variety of symptoms.
Common symptoms of PCOS are:
– Irregular periods, light periods or missed periods. Some patients may have unscheduled prolonged bleeding.
– Ovaries that are large or have many cysts — this is where the name polycystic comes from.
– PCOS is characterized by the absence of ovulation and high levels of androgens. This can cause a cluster of symptoms that may affect reproductive function and lead to other side effects.
– Excess hair on their face, chin, or other areas of the body
– Acne on the face, chest, and upper back
– Thinning hair or hair loss on the scalp
– Excess body weight
Dark skin patches, especially around the neck, groin, or under the breasts
Skin tags in the armpits or neck
2. PCOS may have multiple causes.
While the exact cause of PCOS isn’t fully understood, experts suspect that a few key factors are involved.
A- Increased androgen hormones, or male hormones — All people with a uterus make small amounts of androgen. However, those with PCOS produce more androgen than is typical. High levels of androgen can stop ovulation and cause other common PCOS symptoms like extra hair growth and acne.
B- Insulin resistance — the hormone that controls how food is changed into energy may also be at play. It’s produced by the pancreas. When you are resistant to it, your blood sugar levels go up, making your body make more insulin. This in turn causes male hormone levels to increase, causing issues with ovulation. Signs of insulin resistance include dark patches on skin.
3. Certain people may be more prone to the disorder.
PCOS can occur in people with a uterus any time after puberty, and all races and ethnicities may be affected. But having excess body weight or having a mother or sister with PCOS may put someone at higher risk. It’s also most common to be diagnosed in their 20s or 30s, simply because that’s when many patients see their doctor for problems with getting pregnant
4. Many people with PCOS experience infertility.
PCOS is the most common cause of anovulatory infertility or fertility that stems from the absence of ovulation. The condition doesn’t make it impossible to get pregnant though.
5. PCOS can raise the risk of long-term health problems.
The effects of PCOS can be lifelong. Too much glucose and insulin in the blood, which occurs in more than half of people with PCOS, can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. They may also be more likely to experience:
– Obstructive sleep apnea.
– Excess body weight.
– Heart disease and high blood pressure.
– Mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety.
– Endometrial hyperplasia
6. There’s no single test for PCOS.
– Complete health history, including menstrual history and family health history
Physical exam to look for skin changes, acne, or abnormal hair growth
– Blood test to check male hormone levels, sugar levels, and other hormones that could cause abnormal menstrual cycles
– Pelvic ultrasound to look for cysts
7. PCOS can be managed.
There’s no cure for PCOS, but symptoms can be managed. Lifestyle changes and treatments can go a long way toward managing symptoms, improving the chances for pregnancy, and reducing the risk for long-term complications.