Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition caused by the hormone levels in a woman being unbalanced. The ovaries of women with PCOS produce higher than normal levels of male hormones (androgens). Insulin levels (the hormone which helps our cells use sugar and starches for energy) are also higher and may be linked to PCOS. PCOS is the leading cause of infertility. Between 1 in 10 to 20 women of childbearing age are affected by PCOS. PCOS may develop in girls as young as 10 years old.
Symptoms of PCOS may include the growth of small ovarian cysts (fluid filled sacs), acne, excessive hair growth, weight gain and problems with ovulation. Other symptoms include infrequent or absent periods, infertility, male patterned baldness, pelvic pain, sleep apnea, anxiety or depression. Symptoms and severity vary. Having a female relative with diabetes or PCOS may increase your risk.
Diagnosis of PCOS is made through a medical history, physical exam, blood tests and a vaginal ultrasound. Ovarian cysts and enlarged ovaries may be seen in an ultrasound. The lining of the uterus (endometrium) may be thicker in women with PCOS.
The cause of PCOS is unknown. PCOS may lead to infertility and increased risk of miscarriage, premature labor, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes. PCOS also increases a woman’s risk for uterine cancer and diabetes later in life. High blood pressure and cholesterol levels can also be a result of PCOS and may lead to heart problems. Treatment for PCOS may include dietary changes, birth control pills, diabetes medication, fertility medications, surgery and androgen-reducing medication. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, talk to your obstetrician or midwife as well as endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in treating hormonal conditions) about the most current treatment options. Support groups are a good source of information and can connect you with other women who are living with PCOS.