Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) – What Do I Need to Know


Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, is a health condition that affects about 10 million people in the world. The exact cause of it is unknown, but it is considered a hormonal problem.

PCOS is a hormonal problem that is common among women of reproductive age that prevents the development and release of mature eggs. Without a mature egg, neither ovulation or pregnancy can occur.


What should you expect during a doctor’s visit?

There is no single test to diagnose PCOS. Doctors typically diagnose PCOS in women who have at least two of these three symptoms :

Your doctor should also ask whether you’ve had symptoms like acne, face and body hair growth, and weight gain and get a physical examination done for you.

A pelvic exam can look for any problems with your ovaries or other parts of your reproductive tract. During this test, your doctor inserts gloved fingers into your vagina and checks for any growth in your ovaries or uterus.

Blood tests check for higher-than-normal levels of male hormones. You might also have blood tests to check your cholesterol, insulin, and triglyceride levels to evaluate your risk for related conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

An ultrasound uses sound waves to look for abnormal follicles and other problems with your ovaries and uterus.

These tests help to make a diagnosis of PCOS and exclude other causes for your symptoms.  Your primary doctor may also refer you to a hormone specialist, or endocrinologist, to help direct the work-up needed to rule out other causes and confirm the diagnosis of PCOS.


Experts do not know exactly what causes Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), but it may involve genetic factors. If a woman’s mother or sister has the condition, she has a higher chance than others of developing it.

Along with a genetic link, excess insulin in the body also increases a woman’s risk of developing PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that the pancreas produces, and the body uses to convert sugar in food into energy.

Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) often have insulin resistance. Insulin resistance involves the body’s inability to lower blood sugar levels correctly, that leads to blood sugar levels becoming too high, which causes yet more insulin production.

Too much insulin also increases testosterone production, which leads to some of the symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) often have increased levels of inflammation in their body. Being overweight can also contribute to inflammation. Studies have linked excess inflammation to higher androgen levels.


Symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome may begin shortly after puberty, but can also develop during the later teen years and early adulthood. Because symptoms may be attributed to other causes or go unnoticed, PCOS may go undiagnosed for some time. Sometimes PCOS develops later, for example, in response to substantial weight gain.

Signs and symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome vary. People with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome typically have irregular or missed periods as a result of not ovulating. Although some people may develop cysts on their ovaries, many people do not.

Other symptoms include:

Weight gain.

About half of people with PCOS will have weight gain and obesity that is difficult to manage.


Many people with PCOS report increased fatigue and low energy. Related issues such as poor sleep may contribute to the feeling of fatigue.

Unwanted hair growth (also known as hirsutism).

Areas affected by excess hair growth may include the face, arms, back, chest, thumbs, toes, and abdomen. Hirsutism related to PCOS is due to hormonal changes in androgens.

Thinning hair on the head.

Hair loss related to PCOS may increase in middle age.


PCOS is a leading cause of female infertility. However, not every woman with PCOS is the same. Although some people may need the assistance of fertility treatments, others are able to conceive naturally.


Hormonal changes related to androgens can lead to acne problems. Other skin changes such as the development of skin tags and darkened patches of skin are also related to PCOS.

Mood changes.

Having PCOS can increase the likelihood of mood swings, depression, and anxiety.

Pelvic pain.

Pelvic pain may occur with periods, along with heavy bleeding. It may also occur when a woman isn’t bleeding.


Hormonal changes prompt headaches.

Sleep problems.

People with PCOS often report problems such as insomnia or poor sleep. There are many factors that can affect sleep, but PCOS has been linked to a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, a person will stop breathing for short periods of time during sleep.

PCOS signs and symptoms are typically more severe if you’re obese.


It is important that all the symptoms of PCOS are addressed and managed long-term, to avoid associated health problems. PCOS is a long-term condition and long-term management is needed.

Depending on the symptoms you experience, management of PCOS can include:

  • lifestyle modifications – Lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy, balanced diet and introducing regular physical activity into your weekly routine – can have a positive effect on your health in so many ways. For women who have PCOS, a healthy lifestyle can lead to an improvement in symptoms, particularly if you are overweight and your new lifestyle helps you to lose weight.
  • weight reduction – research has shown that even five to 10 per cent weight loss can provide significant health benefits such as restoration of normal hormone production, improved mood and reducing symptoms such as acne and facial hair.
  • medical treatment – with hormones or medications such as oral contraceptive pills, infertility medications and hormone-blocking medications can help those with PCOS.


PCOS is associated with the following long-term health risks:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Increased risk of the development of diabetes, especially if women are overweight
  • Cholesterol and blood fat abnormalities
  • Cardiovascular disease (heart disease, heart attack and stroke)
  • Endometrial cancer.

Your efforts help reduce the risk of developing serious health complications that can impact women with PCOS much sooner than women without PCOS. There is no cure yet, but there are many ways you can decrease or eliminate PCOS symptoms and feel better.

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