- PCOS is a condition that disrupts normal hormone levels in women.
- PCOS affects up to 27% of women between the ages 15 to 44.
- It is the leading cause of infertility in women.
- Ovaries are the primarily affected organs in PCOS.
- The term cyst in PCOS refers to fluid-filled sacs containing an immature egg.
- Eggs within cysts cannot be released by ovulation.
- Symptoms of PCOS are usually associated with a lack of ovulation.
- Women with PCOS secrete abnormally high levels of male hormones.
- PCOS can be diagnosed by a pelvic exam, a blood test, or ultrasound.
- Losing weight, switching to a low-carb diet, and getting regular exercise is a good start to reversing PCOS.
What is PCOS?
PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that disrupts normal hormone levels in women. Women affected by PCOS produce abnormally high amounts of male hormones. This leads to missed menstrual periods, making it difficult for them to get pregnant.
What are the high-risk groups for PCOS?
PCOS affects 3-27% of women between the ages of 15 to 44. However, one study reported that up to 70% of women with PCOS don’t know that they have it.
Quick Fact: Up to 70% of women with PCOS don’t know that they have it.
What are the primary affected organs in PCOS?
The primary affected organs are the ovaries. Ovaries are female reproductive organs that produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle. In addition, they also produce a small amount of male hormones called androgens.
Quick Fact: Ovaries, the female reproductive organs produce small amounts male hormones called androgens
How It Works
Ovaries are the organs that release an egg every month (ovulation) to be fertilized by a sperm.
Ovulation is controlled by two other hormones, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) to produce the eggs and luteinizing hormone, that prompt the ovaries to release the mature egg.
The primary characteristics of PCOS arise from this mechanism, and consists of:
- Formation of ovarian cysts (fluid-filled sacs)
- High levels of male hormones (androgens)
- Irregular or missed periods
Ovarian cysts are fluid filled sacs containing the immature egg. Since they are trapped within the sac, they do not mature enough to be released during ovulation. Absence of ovulation leads to lower levels of the main hormones: estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH. This causes the level of androgens to be relatively high.
Higher levels of the male hormones are one of the reasons for the typical symptoms associated with PCOS such as:
- Irregular periods
- Male-pattern baldness
- Abnormal facial and body hair
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
Some common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular periods
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Abnormal hair growth
- Development of acne
- Weight gain
- Male pattern baldness
- Darkening of skin
The symptoms are usually associated with the lack of ovulation. For example, the absence of ovulation prevents the lining of the uterus to shed every month. Or, the uterine lining could build-up for a longer time, and shed altogether causing abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding. High level of androgens in women with PCOS leads to abnormal facial hair growth, male pattern baldness, and acne.
What are some of the causes of PCOS?
Studies have shown that up to 70% of women affected by PCOS also have insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to use glucose from food for energy. During insulin resistance the cells are unable to use the hormone insulin. When this happens the pancreas makes more insulin to compensate for the body’s demand for extra insulin. Excess insulin triggers the ovaries to produce more androgens. Studies have also associated excess inflammation in the body to higher androgen levels.
Some common causes for PCOS are given below:
- Genetic factors
- Insulin resistance
Quick Fact: Excess insulin triggers the ovaries to produce more androgens or male hormones.
How does PCOS affect the body?
- Metabolic syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Endometrial cancer
Releasing of the egg by the ovary is an important step for pregnancy. This step is necessary for the egg to get fertilized by the sperm. When this does not happen the affected woman cannot get pregnant. Studies have shown that PCOS is a leading cause of infertility in women. The build-up of the uterine lining is a strong risk factor for endometrial cancer.
What are some diet tips to treat PCOS?
Making lifestyle changes like improving diet and getting sufficient exercise is a great starting point to treat PCOS. Diets that are low in carbohydrates are shown to improve weight loss and helps regulate the menstrual cycle. This is turn improves ovulation and insulin levels.
How would I know I have PCOS?
Check with your healthcare specialist if you have any of the following:
- Facial and body hair growth
- Missed period without pregnancy
- Inability to get pregnant after trying for 1 year or more.
- Excessive thirst or hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
Does PCOS affect pregnancy?
In brief, yes. PCOS is a condition where the primary reproductive hormone levels are abnormal, and this has a direct impact on the ability to get pregnant. Further, PCOS may lead to a complicated pregnancy in those who do get pregnant. However, women with PCOS can still have a normal pregnancy. Taking measures like reducing weight, lowering blood sugar levels, and using fertility treatments to improve ovulation may help.