Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a disorder that begins at puberty. A genetic basis for the problem has been identified. It is increasingly clear that “androgen (male hormone) excess” is the culprit.
About 5 to 10 percent of women have PCOS. Common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Missed or irregular periods
- Irregular bleeding
- Increased hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, back, thumbs, or toes (also known as hirsutism)
- High levels of male hormones (androgens)
PCOS can also lead to recurrent miscarriages, infertility, early-age heart attacks, and type 2 diabetes. Your doctor will evaluate your history and also will do a physical exam, and may want you to have a number of blood tests as well as an ultrasound to check and see if there are cysts on your ovaries.
Treatment for PCOS centers on the symptoms and the effects from the abnormal male hormones. It may involve oral contraceptives, medication to slow or inhibit hair growth, medications to make you more sensitive to insulin (thus reducing your insulin resistance), and androgen antagonists to prevent the effects of the male hormones.
Lifestyle changes also may have a positive impact on your quality of life. Targeting a modest weight reduction — as little as 10 percent of your weight — can help reverse some symptoms. Regular exercise along with dieting is effective.