Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. It is characterized by the growth of small cysts on the ovaries, which can lead to hormonal imbalances and a range of symptoms.
The exact cause of PCOS is not known, but it is believed to be linked to insulin resistance, excess androgen production, and hereditary factors. Some common symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth, acne, and weight gain.
The 3 main features of PCOS are:
Irregular periods – which means your ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulation
Excess androgen – high levels of "male" hormones in your body, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair
Polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs (but despite the name, you do not actually have cysts if you have PCOS)
If you have at least 2 of these features, you may be diagnosed with PCOS.
Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles that are up to 8mm (approximately 0.3in) in size.
The follicles are underdeveloped sacs in which eggs develop. In PCOS, these sacs are often unable to release an egg, which means ovulation does not take place.
It's difficult to know exactly how many women have PCOS, but it's thought to be very common, affecting about 1 in every 10 women in the UK.
More than half of these women do not have any symptoms.
Symptoms of PCOS
They can include:
irregular periods or no periods at all.
difficulty getting pregnant as a result of irregular ovulation or no ovulation
excess hair growth – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks
thinning hair and hair loss from the head
oily skin or acne
Causes of PCOS
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it often runs in families.
It's related to abnormal hormone levels in the body, including high levels of insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that controls sugar levels in the body.
Many women with PCOS are resistant to the action of insulin in their body and produce higher levels of insulin to overcome this.
This contributes to the increased production and activity of hormones like testosterone.
Being overweight or obese also increases the amount of insulin your body produces.
Here are some ways to manage PCOS:
Lifestyle changes: Lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, and weight management can help to reduce insulin resistance and improve hormonal balance.
Medication: Hormonal birth control pills or other medications such as metformin can help to regulate menstrual cycles and reduce symptoms such as excess hair growth and acne.
Fertility treatment: For women who are trying to conceive, fertility treatments such as ovulation induction or in vitro fertilisation (IVF) may be recommended.
Surgery: In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to remove cysts or to treat other complications of PCOS.
It's important to work with a healthcare professional to manage PCOS, as it can increase the risk of other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and endometrial cancer. By managing symptoms and taking steps to improve overall health, women with PCOS can lead full and healthy lives.