What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

A big name for small cysts on the ovaries, polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS affects as many as one in every 15 women and can make getting pregnant more difficult. While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, an imbalance of hormones often starting in the teenage years, can lead to excess hair growth, acne, trouble losing weight, and long or infrequent periods. Early diagnosis is important since polycystic ovary syndrome can eventually lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other complications.  In women with PCOS, the ovaries make more androgens, or male sex hormones, which can decrease ovulation, increase facial hair and lead to insulin resistance. While the cysts on the ovaries aren’t harmful themselves, they can spur these hormone imbalances. Potential causes include excess insulin, genetics and low-grade inflammation in the body.

If you have infrequent or particularly long periods plus other PCOS symptoms, talk to your doctor, since early diagnosis can reduce the risk of long-term complications. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will discuss your symptoms and menstrual cycle, do a physical exam as well as tests to rule out other issues and to check your hormone levels. Treatment for PCOS can include regular exercise and healthy eating to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, quitting smoking, prescription medications including birth control pills or fertility medications, and over-the-counter treatments for skin issues.


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