What is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 women of childbearing age suffers from PCOS. The condition currently affects up to 5 million women in the United States.
What causes PCOS?
While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, doctors believe that hormonal imbalances and genetics play a role. Women are more likely to develop PCOS if their mother or sister also has the condition.
Overproduction of the hormone androgen may be another contributing factor. Androgen is a male sex hormone that women’s bodies also produce. Women with PCOS often produce higher-than-normal levels of androgen. This can affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation. Excess insulin (a hormone that helps convert sugars and starches into energy) may cause high androgen levels.
Symptoms of PCOS
Symptoms of PCOS typically start soon after a woman begins to menstruate. The type and severity of symptoms varies from person to person. The most common characteristic of PCOS is irregular menstrual periods.
Because PCOS is marked by a decrease in female sex hormones, this condition may cause women to develop certain male characteristics, such as:
- excess hair on the face, chest, stomach, thumbs, or toes
- decrease in breast size
- deeper voice
- thin hair
Other symptoms include:
- weight gain
- pelvic pain
- anxiety or depression
While not symptoms of the disease, many women with PCOS have other concurrent health problems, such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. These are linked to the weight gain typical in PCOS patients.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
Blood tests to measure hormone levels are typically ordered, as well as:
- thyroid function tests to determine how much of the thyroid hormone your body produces
- fasting glucose tests to measure your blood sugar levels
- lipid level tests to assess the amount of cholesterol in your blood
A vaginal ultrasound allows your gynecologist to create real time images of your reproductive organs. A pelvic laparoscopy is a surgical procedure in which your doctor makes a small incision in your abdomen and inserts a tiny camera to check for growths on your ovaries. If growths are present, your doctor may take a small tissue sample (biopsy) for further examination.
How is PCOS treated?
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