Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Effective Treatment

    Published 02 September 2019
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    Medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Targonskaya, Obstetrician and gynecologist
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    What is PCOS? Who is at risk of having it? Find out everything about this condition in Flo’s complete guide.

    PCOS risk factors

    Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition associated with disorders in the endocrine system, sex hormone levels, and metabolism.

    As a result, the egg doesn’t mature so there is no ovulation, and cysts are formed on the ovaries.

    PCOS can affect a woman’s overall health, appearance, and fertility.

    Five to ten percent of women all over the world aged 15−44 years have this condition, but the disease is most often diagnosed when a woman consults a doctor about conception issues. It is treatable, but it takes time.

    The risk of PCOS is the highest if there is a hereditary factor, as well as excess weight.

    PCOS symptoms

    Polycystic ovary syndrome is associated with an upset hormonal balance, including increased production of male sex hormones (androgens). PCOS symptoms and signs include:

    • irregular cycles
    • loss of period, from 2 weeks to 2−3 months
    • high body mass index and increased appetite
    • excessive sebum production (greasy skin) and inflamed acne
    • hair breaking or shedding, or even hair loss
    • excess hair growth on the chest, abdomen, back, hips, chin, or above the upper lip

    These symptoms don’t necessarily indicate the disease, but they’re reason enough to consult a doctor.

    PCOS with irregular periods: why?

    Regular menstruation and ovulation are signs of a full-fledged menstrual cycle and the proper functioning of the ovaries.

    With polycystic ovary syndrome, there is an increased level of male sex hormones (androgens), which negatively affects the process of ovulation.

    • The outer layer of the ovaries thickens, and a mature follicle cannot break it to release the egg.
    • Ovulation doesn’t occur, the egg doesn’t leave the ovary, and the follicle turns into a cyst.
    • The body lacks estrogen and progesterone produced by the ovaries, which are crucial for a full-fledged menstrual cycle.
    • The endometrium matures so slowly that periods come much later (up to 90 days between cycles).

    This disease is manageable. The most important thing is to be patient.

    Read this next: a detailed interview about PCOS with Professor Tahir Mahmood

    PCOS treatment: maintaining a healthy weight Is crucial!

    In most cases, the diagnosis of PCOS is accompanied by the body’s reduced sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. It may lead to an increase in appetite.

    A high level of insulin stimulates the production of male sex hormones, which exacerbate polycystic manifestations.

    Breaking the vicious circle is extremely difficult because it’s hard to stop eating when the hunger is caused by a hormonal imbalance.

    A balanced diet and adequate physical activity are key; otherwise, treating polycystosis can be complicated.

    Of course, adequate and balanced nutrition is of the utmost importance, but there’s no way around exercising.

    You can, for example, work out every other day for at least 45 minutes, including calorie-burning exercises.

    Optimal physical activity and adequate body weight promote the normal (not excessive) production of androgens (i.e., the male sex hormones), and the body’s cells are able to absorb insulin gets absorbed better.

    Gradually, the response of the cells to normal amounts of insulin is restored, the blood sugar level drops, and the appetite decreases.

    Weight loss normalizes carbohydrate and fat metabolism. It becomes easier to control the quantity and quality of food consumed.

    Frequently asked questions on PCOS

    How do you test for polycystic ovary syndrome?

    There isn’t a specific test that’s used to diagnose PCOS. A doctor will perform a physical examination to rule out abnormalities, an ultrasound to check your ovaries and uterus, and blood tests to determine hormone levels. If you’re diagnosed with PCOS, your doctor could order other tests to rule out complications such as high blood sugar or cholesterol levels.

    Can you get rid of polycystic ovary syndrome?

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for PCOS yet. However, that doesn’t mean that the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome can’t be managed. Treatment depends on your reproductive plans. Therapeutic alternatives include healthy lifestyle changes, losing weight, and hormonal birth control. Your doctor could also prescribe different treatments to manage the complications that can arise from PCOS, like excessive hair growth or insulin resistance.

    What is the main cause of polycystic ovary syndrome?

    The exact cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome isn’t known. However, research has found that a higher risk of PCOS can be inherited, even though there isn’t a specific gene that causes the disease. PCOS causes hormonal imbalances, such as high levels of androgens or male hormones. These hormonal imbalances lead to other symptoms in many parts of your body.

    Is tiredness a symptom of PCOS?

    Yes! In fact, fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome. The hormonal imbalances in your body, coupled with lack of sleep, a poor physical condition, and fluctuating levels of blood sugar make fatigue a highly prevalent symptom of PCOS.

    Can you get pregnant if you have polycystic ovaries?

    PCOS can make you ovulate irregularly or not at all, which can make natural conception difficult or impossible. Reaching a healthy weight and certain medications can help you regulate your cycle. Your doctor can also prescribe drugs to induce ovulation. Not all cases of PCOS are the same, and you a specialist can help you conceive with PCOS.

    What is the fastest way to cure PCOS?

    Although PCOS can’t be cured, there are many ways to regulate its symptoms. The first thing you need to do is adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Even losing 5% of your body weight has been shown to improve PCOS symptoms. If you’re not looking to get pregnant, your doctor could also prescribe hormonal birth control to regulate your cycle.

    Can I have PCOS and have regular periods?

    It’s not common, but some women do experience regular periods while dealing with polycystic ovarian syndrome. If you are having symptoms similar to those caused by PCOS, such as excessive body hair growth, difficulty losing weight, acne, loss of scalp hair, depression, or anxiety, talk to your doctor about ruling out PCOS - even if your cycles are regular.

    Can polycystic ovarian syndrome go away on its own?

    In some cases, making healthier lifestyle choices and using hormonal birth control can practically eliminate the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome. Other women experience a decrease or change in their symptoms after pregnancy and breastfeeding. 

    Can polycystic ovaries turn into cancer?

    The cysts in your ovaries aren’t dangerous and won’t turn into cancer. However, research has shown that women with PCOS carry a slightly increased risk of developing cancer of the endometrium. Other studies have shown a link between PCOS and ovarian or breast cancer, but the evidence isn’t conclusive.

    Does PCOS get worse with age?

    Unfortunately, it can. Older women with PCOS tend to gain more weight than women without the condition, and symptoms such as hirsutism and hair loss can worsen. Other hormonal imbalances, such as high cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar levels can remain elevated after menopause. This increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome.

    History of updates

    Current version (02 September 2019)

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Targonskaya, Obstetrician and gynecologist

    Published (02 September 2019)

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