In some cases, a woman does not generate enough of the hormones required to ovulate. The ovaries might grow a lot of little cysts when ovulation is absent. Androgen-producing hormones are produced by these cysts. High levels of androgen are common in women with PCOS.
Further issues with a woman’s menstrual cycle may result from this. Medication is typically used to aid with symptom management and health problem prevention. (1)
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in which the ovaries produce abnormally high levels of androgens, male sex hormones usually found in small amounts in women.
The phrase polycystic ovarian syndrome refers to a condition in which the ovaries develop multiple small cysts (fluid-filled sacs). However, although some women without the disease develop cysts, some women with the disorder do not.
A mature egg is discharged from the ovary during ovulation. This occurs so that it can be fertilized by male sperm. During the menstrual cycle, the egg is expelled from the body if it is not fertilized. (2)
What are the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
If you have PCOS signs and symptoms, they usually become apparent in your late teens or early twenties.
These symptoms may include:
- irregular or no periods
- difficulty getting pregnant because of irregular ovulation or lack of ovulation
- excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back, or hips
- gaining weight
- hair thinning and head hair loss
- oily skin or acne
Additionally, PCOS is linked to a higher risk of later-life health issues, such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. (3)
How is PCOS diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask you about your medical history and symptoms before diagnosing PCOS. You will also undergo a physical test, which will likely include a pelvic exam. This examination will allow you to check the health of your reproductive organs both inside and outside your body.
Some symptoms of PCOS may resemble symptoms caused by other health problems. Therefore, you may be subject to tests such as:
An ultrasound test uses sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. This test is most commonly used to look at the size of the ovaries and see if there are cysts. The test can also show the thickness of the lining of the uterus (endometrium).
These look for high levels of androgens and other hormones. Your healthcare provider may also check your blood sugar levels. You can also have your cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked at this stage. (4)
What causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, yet it frequently occurs in families. High levels of insulin are one of the abnormal hormone levels associated with PCOS. The hormone insulin regulates the body’s sugar levels.
Many PCOS-affected women create more insulin to overcome their bodies’ resistance to the action of insulin. As a result, hormones like testosterone are produced and active at higher levels. The quantity of insulin your body generates also increases when you are overweight or obese. (5)
For women of childbearing age, PCOS is a highly prevalent hormonal problem. In addition to having high androgen levels and several tiny cysts on their ovaries, women with PCOS may not ovulate.
Missed or irregular periods, excessive hair growth, acne, infertility, and weight gain are all symptoms of PCOS. Endometrial cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart issues may all be more common in women with PCOS. (6)
Rosenfield, R. L., & Ehrmann, D. A. (2016). The pathogenesis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): the hypothesis of PCOS as functional ovarian hyperandrogenism revisited. Endocrine reviews, 37(5), 467-520.