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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Symptoms

Common PCOS signs and symptoms include:

  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Infertility
  • Obesity—Up to 80 percent of women with PCOS are obese.
  • Hirsutism, or excess hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen or upper thighs
  • Severe acne or acne that occurs after adolescence and does not respond to usual treatments
  • Oily skin
  • Patches of thickened, velvety, darkened skin called acanthosis nigricans
  • Multiple small cysts on the ovaries

Causes

Although the cause of PCOS is not known, it appears that PCOS may be related to many different factors working together. These factors include insulin resistance, increased levels of hormones called androgens and an irregular menstrual cycle.

Complications

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. These include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, endometrial hyperplasia and endometrial cancer.

Treatment

A variety of treatments are available to address the problems of PCOS. Treatment is tailored to each woman according to symptoms, other health problems and whether she wants to become pregnant.

Combined hormonal birth control pills can be used for long-term treatment in women who do not wish to become pregnant. Birth control pills regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce hirsutism and acne by decreasing androgen levels. They also decrease the risk of endometrial cancer.

For overweight women, weight loss alone often regulates the menstrual cycle. Even a small weight loss of 10–15 pounds can be helpful in making menstrual periods more regular. Weight loss also has been found to improve cholesterol and insulin levels and relieve symptoms such as excess hair growth and acne.

Insulin-sensitizing drugs can help the body respond to insulin. In women with PCOS, they can help decrease androgen levels and improve ovulation. Restoring ovulation helps make menstrual periods regular and more predictable.

Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.