PCOS is the result of an imbalance of reproductive hormones. Women who have PCOS often have enlarged ovaries that develop numerous follicles, or small collections of fluid, that can affect menstruation or fertility. For women who develop PCOS earlier in life, signs and symptoms of the condition often begin with menstruation. PCOS can also develop during a woman’s reproductive years. Although PCOS impacts every woman differently, common symptoms include:
Irregular menstrual cycle: This is the most common symptoms of PCOS. It can include period cycles that are longer than 35 days, having fewer than eight menstrual cycles per year, lack of menstruation for longer than four months, or long periods that are very light or very heavy.
Elevated androgen levels: Many women with PCOS have excess androgens, or male hormones, that may cause unwanted facial and body hair, acne, and even male-pattern baldness.
Polycystic ovaries: Follicles on the ovaries can be viewed with an ultrasound.
Weight gain, or trouble losing weight, are also common symptoms of PCOS. Many women with PCOS also develop skin tags, or small flaps of excess skin in the armpits or on the neck.
Medical researchers and physicians don’t exactly know what causes PCOS, but it’s believed that several factors may play a role in its development. Genes may be linked to PCOS: If your mother or your has the condition, you’re more likely to have it. Low-grade inflammation may also play a part — many women with PCOS have the type of low-grade inflammation that prompts polycystic ovaries to overproduce male hormones. Finally, being insulin resistant can also interfere with reproductive hormone balance, ovary function, and ovulation.
PCOS is associated with a greater risk for a variety of serious health conditions, especially in women who are overweight or obese. More than half of all women with PCOS have diabetes or a pre-diabetic condition by the age of 40. Women with PCOS are also more likely to have high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels, putting them at a greater risk of heart disease. Endometrial cancer, or cancer of the lining of the uterus, is also more common among women with PCOS, as well.
Because excess body weight can be a major factor in the severity of symptoms of complications experienced by a woman with PCOS, one of the first treatment recommendations, when applicable, is weight loss through a change in diet and moderate exercise. Other treatments are based on controlling the most persistent symptoms. Women with unwanted facial hair may undergo laser hair removal, while women who have irregular periods may respond well to combination birth control pills, which contain the hormones estrogen and progestin.
Effective lifestyle changes include staying as active as possible and switching to a high-fiber, whole-grain, low-sugar diet.
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