What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, also referred as PCOS, this is a hormonal condition with the possibility of cysts being present on the ovaries. It is the most common cause of infertility in women. It is related to infertility issues because the failure to release eggs regularly.
Causes, signs and symptoms
Birth Control and PCOS
Combined hormonal birth control pills can be used for long-term treatment in women with PCOS who do not wish to become pregnant. Combined hormonal pills contain both estrogen and progestin.
These birth control pills regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce hirsutism and acne by decreasing androgen levels. They also decrease the risk of endometrial cancer.
What are the health risks?
PCOS affects all areas of the body, not just the reproductive system. It increases a woman’s risk of serious conditions that may have lifelong consequences.
Insulin resistance increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Another condition that is associated with PCOS is metabolic syndrome. This syndrome contributes to both diabetes and heart disease.
Women with PCOS also tend to have a condition called endometrial hyperplasia, in which the lining of the uterus becomes too thick. This condition increases the risk of endometrial cancer.
Hormones involved in PCOS
All females make androgens (also referred to as “male hormones”), but there are often higher levels of androgens in women with PCOS. The excess androgens are produced mostly by the ovaries, but the adrenal glands can also be involved. Excess androgens are responsible for many PCOS symptoms including acne, unwanted hair, thinning hair, and irregular periods.
This hormone allows the body to absorb glucose (blood sugar) into the cells for energy. In PCOS, the body isn’t as responsive to insulin as it should be. This can lead to elevated blood glucose levels and cause the body to make more insulin. Having too much insulin can cause the body to make more androgens.
In PCOS, a lack of progesterone contributes to irregular periods.
When higher than normal levels of androgens are produced, the ovaries may be prevented from releasing an egg each month (a process called ovulation). High androgen levels also cause the unwanted hair growth and acne seen in many women with PCOS.
What health conditions are linked to PCOS?
- Diabetes. More than half of women with PCOS will have diabetes or pre-diabetes (glucose intolerance) before the age of 40. Learn more about diabetes on our Diabetes page.
- High blood pressure. Women with PCOS are at greater risk of having high blood pressure compared with women of the same age without PCOS. High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Learn more about heart disease and stroke.
- Unhealthy cholesterol. Women with PCOS often have higher levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. High cholesterol raises your risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Sleep apnea. This is when momentary and repeated stops in breathing interrupt sleep. Many women with PCOS have overweight or obesity, which can cause sleep apnea. Sleep apnea raises your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
- Depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety are common among women with PCOS.
- Endometrial cancer. Problems with ovulation, obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes (all common in women with PCOS) increase the risk of developing cancer of the endometrium (lining of the uterus or womb).