What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a medical condition affecting women that is caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. Women with PCOS may have an increased amount of male sex hormones (androgens). Androgens are made by the ovaries but the adrenal glands may also play a role in this condition. The imbalance in hormones can cause problems with a woman’s menstrual cycle and ovulation. Women with PCOS may experiences irregular, missed, or prolonged menstrual periods. In women without PCOS, the ovaries create an egg each month and release it during ovulation, but in PCOS women may not be able to release eggs or the egg may not be formed correctly. 
The condition gets the word "polycystic" in its name from the small sacs of fluid or cysts that form in the ovaries - which aid in the imbalance of hormones. Not all women with PCOS will develop these cysts, however. Due to problems with ovulation and menstruation, women with PCOS may have problems getting pregnant or become infertile. PCOS can also be responsible for weight gain and can put women at risk for diseases associated with obesity, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 
Risk factors
  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance (being unresponsive to insulin can result in the overproduction of androgens)
  • Having a mother or sister with PCOS
There is no one specific way to diagnose PCOS. Your doctor will perform a complete medical history and physical exam, paying close attention to your symptoms. Your doctor will see if you have any symptoms such as excessive hair growth, acne, signs of insulin resistance, and weight gain which can be indicative of excess androgens and PCOS. Some other tests that may be performed to diagnose PCOS include:
  • Pelvic exam: Allows the doctor to look/feel for any masses or growths in your pelvic region.
  • Blood tests: Samples of your blood may be taken to look at your hormone levels such as androgens. Your blood glucose levels may also be looked at because insulin resistance can lead to an elevated blood glucose. 
  • Ultrasound: An imaging device used  to look at your ovaries and uterus. 
Treatment for PCOS mainly focuses on managing the symptoms. There is no definitive cure for PCOS. Your doctor may recommend you make lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet and exercise in order to manage your weight. 
Some medications that are used in the treatment of PCOS include:
  • Hormonal birth control therapy
  • Diabetes medication
  • Medications to cause ovulation 
  • Medications to help treat certain symptoms such as acne and hair growth
  • 10 million women are affected by PCOS worldwide
  • PCOS can happen at any time after puberty but most women find out they have it when they are trying to get pregnant (20-30 years old)
  • 5-10% of women ages 15-44 have PCOS
  • Greater than half of the women affected by PCOS will have pre-diabetes or diabetes
  • Most women with PCOS are overweight or obese
about polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

  • "Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Jul. 2017. Web. 4 Aug. 2017.
  • “Polycystic ovary syndrome.” Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services. Womenshealth.gov, 26 Jul. 2017. Web. 4 Aug. 2017. 
  • “What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?” PCOS Awareness Association, n.d. Web. 4 Aug. 2017. 
  • “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).” John’s Hopkins Medicine. John’s Hopkins Medicine Health Library, n.d. Web. 4 Aug. 2017. 
  • “Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus, n.d. Web. 4 Aug. 2017.



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