Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a hormonal imbalance that occurs due to the ovaries creating an overabundance of male hormones. This condition is also called ‘PCOS.’ The ovaries typically begin producing higher levels of androgens, which causes an off-balance within your reproductive system. This can cause erratic menstrual cycles, unpredictable ovulation, and missed periods. In many cases, various sized cysts will develop on the ovaries due to lack of ovulation, but one does not need to have cysts present to have PCOS.
FACT: PCOS is one of the leading causes of female infertility, and also increases a female’s overall risk for more health conditions as she ages.
A female can get PCOS at any time after puberty, although most are diagnosed in their 20s or 30s during the times of trying for a pregnancy. You have a higher chance of having PCOS if you are overweight or are considered obese, or if others in your family also have the condition.
FACT: Polycystic ovarian syndrome is very common and up to 15% of females of reproductive age have it.
Causes of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
The exact causes of PCOS are unknown but there is evidence that links genetics to be a contributing factor. Other things that play a possible role are:
- Insulin resistance: Increased insulin levels cause the ovaries to make and release androgens. Increased male hormone thusly suppresses ovulation and contributes to other symptoms of PCOS. Insulin controls the way your body processes sugar and uses it for energy. Insulin resistance means your body does not process insulin correctly, leading to high glucose levels in your blood. Not all individuals with insulin resistance have an elevated glucose or diabetes, but insulin resistance can lead to diabetes. An elevated insulin level, even if your blood glucose is normal, can indicate insulin resistance.
- Higher levels of male hormones called androgens: High androgen levels prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs during ovulation, which causes irregular menstrual cycles. Irregular ovulation can also cause small, fluid-filled sacs to develop in the ovaries. High androgen also causes acne and excess hair growth in women.
- Low–grade inflammation: People with PCOS tend to have chronic low-grade inflammation. Your healthcare provider can perform blood tests that measure levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and white blood cells, which can indicate the level of inflammation in your body. These levels can fluctuate.
Symptoms of PCOS
Some of the most commonly reported symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome are:
- Acne: PCOS can causes acne, especially on the face, back, and chest. This type of acne is usually difficult to treat.
- Irregular periods: abnormal menstruation involves missing periods or not having a period at all. It can also trigger heavy bleeding during periods.
- Cysts: many females with PCOS have various sized pockets of fluid in their ovaries.
- Abnormal hair growth: Excess or extra facial hair growth on the arms, chest and abdomen; which affects up to 70% of females with PCOS.
- Obesity: Nearly 80% of PCOS patients are overweight or are obese and have extreme trouble losing weight.
- Darkening of the skin: Patches of dark skin can occur in the folds of your nexk, armpits, groin, and under the breasts.
- Skin tags: these are small flaps of skin that are often found in the armpits or on the neck of women with PCOS.
- Thinning hair: people with PCOS may lose patches of hair on their heads or begin to become bald.
- Infertility: PCOS is the most common cause of female fertility. Decreased and altered ovulation lessens the chance for successful pregnancy.
Many females have PCOS for quite some time before ever knowing, as symptoms can often mask as many other common conditions, or even PMS.