Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone imbalance. Symptoms of PCOS can include:

  • Irregular periods
  • Unwanted hair growth on your face, chest, stomach or other parts of your body
  • Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
  • Acne, oily skin or dandruff
  • Patches of dark skin on the back of your neck or other areas
  • Weight gain and/or trouble losing weight
  • Difficulty getting pregnant

What causes PCOS?

No one knows exactly what causes PCOS, but most providers believe it is caused by an imbalance of hormones. Many women with PCOS have higher than normal levels of insulin, a hormone that regulates the way the body changes food into energy. Too much insulin helps explain why many women with PCOS have trouble losing weight. Women with PCOS may also produce a little extra testosterone, the male sex hormone. Too much testosterone may cause women with PCOS to grow extra hair on their faces and bodies and to have thinning hair on their heads.

Why are my periods so irregular?

Having PCOS means that your ovaries are not getting the right hormonal signals. Without these signals, you will not ovulate (make eggs). Your period may be irregular or you may not have a period at all.

Does PCOS mean I have cysts on my ovaries? 

The term "polycystic ovaries" means that there are lots of tiny cysts (bumps) inside the ovaries. Some women with PCOS have these cysts, others do not. Sometimes, these cysts make it difficult for women to get pregnant; however, in many cases they do not cause any problems at all.

Does PCOS affect my ability to have children?

Women with PCOS have a normal uterus and healthy eggs; however, many women with PCOS have trouble getting pregnant due to the difficulty of ovulation (egg releasing from the ovary). But some women have no trouble getting pregnant at all. If you are concerned about fertiltiy (ability to get pregnant), talk to your provider. There are many options available, including medications, to help you ovulate each month.

How does the provider know I have PCOS?

Your provider will ask you a lot of questions about your menstual cycle and your general health, then do a complete physical examination. You will likely need to have a blood test to check your hormone levels, blood sugar, and choleterol. Your provider may also recommend an ultrasound to look at your uterus and ovaries.

What can I do about having PCOS? 

While you can't cure PCOS, you can treat it. A healthy lifestyle is very important, including a healthy diet and regular exercise. There are excellent long-term medications to help you manage irregular periods, hair growth, and skin problems. Your provider can tell you about the various options including hormone treatment and insulin-sensitizing medications.

Does PCOS put women at risk for other health problems?

Women with PCOS may be more likely to develop diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and heart disease. You can keep the symptoms of PCOS under control by taking medications when necessary, losing weight, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. Having a healthier lifestyle will help reduce your risk of developing these health problems.

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