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What Is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone problem in females. It can disrupt the menstrual cycle or make it harder to get pregnant.

In many women with PCOS, small cysts form in the ovaries.

It's vital to get treatment. Left untreated, PCOS can lead to serious medical issues such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

Your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes and medicine to treat your PCOS.

Who's at Risk for PCOS?

PCOS most often occurs in the early teenage years, shortly after your first period.

But it may also appear later in life. Doctors diagnose PCOS in many women when they're trying to get pregnant in their 20s and 30s.

Your chance of having PCOS may be higher if others in your family have it. Diabetes may also increase your risk of PCOS.

How Common Is PCOS?

PCOS is a very common hormone problem, affecting about one in ten women of childbearing age.

It's a common cause of female infertility.

What Causes PCOS?

While there's no specific cause of PCOS, there are some factors that can lead to its onset:

  • Genetics may play a central role. We often find PCOS in mothers and daughters and female siblings.
  • Insulin resistance can promote androgen production, which may affect the ability to produce eggs.
  • Low-grade inflammation may stimulate androgen production and lead to PCOS.

What Are Common PCOS Symptoms?

  • Period problems. Irregular periods are the most common PCOS symptom. They can include abnormally short or long cycles, heavy bleeding, or skipping periods for several months.
  • Trouble getting pregnant after trying for 12 months.
  • Depression and mood swings. Many women suffering from PCOS will have mood swings or periods of depression.
  • Acne and oily skin.
  • Weight gain and trouble losing weight.
  • Changes in the hair on your head and body. You may have thinning hair on your scalp. Or your facial hair may get thicker or darker. You may also notice more hair on your chest, belly, and back.
  • Upper body obesity and skin tags. Too much or too little insulin can cause the symptom of PCOS.
  • Breathing problems while sleeping. Insulin resistance and obesity can lead to this PCOS symptom.

Your doctor may find additional PCOS symptoms, such as:

  • Higher levels of male hormones. PCOS can result in elevated levels of male hormones, also known as androgens.
  • Fluid-filled sacs around the eggs. The polycystic ovaries may enlarge and form small, fluid-filled sacs surrounding the eggs. This can cause fertility issues such as the failure of the eggs to properly release and miscarriages.
  • High blood sugar and insulin resistance. PCOS can cause insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels, which can lead to the onset of obesity.

    When Should I See My Doctor About PCOS Symptoms?

    You should seek treatment if you:

    • Have irregular vaginal bleeding.
    • Bleed more than normal during your period.
    • Suffer diabetes symptoms such as blurred vision, tingling in the hands or feet, or frequent urination.
    • Notice abnormal hair growth or changes in hair thickness or color.

    You also might want to see a doctor if you've been trying to get pregnant for at least one year.

    How Do Doctors Diagnose PCOS?

    PCOS can be hard to diagnose. The process often involves a complete assessment of your PCOS symptoms and medical history to rule out other possible conditions.

    Your doctor will likely do a series of tests that may include:

    • A complete physical exam to look for signs of PCOS, including extra body hair and high blood pressure. Taking your height and weight can help your doctor see if you have a healthy body mass index (BMI).
    • Blood tests to measure your blood sugar, insulin, and hormone levels. These tests may help rule out other problems that cause symptoms similar to PCOS.
    • Pelvic exam to look and feel for any abnormalities, such as a mass.
    • Ultrasound exam of your ovaries and uterus to look for cysts.

    How Do You Treat PCOS?

    Upon diagnosis, your doctor may suggest treating your PCOS with:

    • Lifestyle changes. This may involve eating a healthy diet, getting more exercise, or losing weight.
    • Medication. Your doctor may prescribe drugs to help you ovulate, regulate your menstrual cycle, and reduce excessive hair growth.

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