Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
A complex hormonal condition often associated with irregular periods, skin and hair changes and cysts on the ovaries, that affects around 1 in 5 women of reproductive age.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that affects up to 1 in 5 women of childbearing age. It is the combination of having many ovarian follicles, identified using ultrasound, with symptoms of a hormone imbalance such as irregular periods, acne or weight gain.
What are the causes of PCOS?
The cause of PCOS is unknown but it is thought that several factors could play a role. Genetics in particular are thought to have an influence as women with PCOS are more likely to have a mother or sister with PCOS.
A main underlying problem is a hormonal imbalance:
- Many women with PCOS have too much insulin in their blood because their body does not respond to the normal amount (insulin resistance). The excess insulin has a direct effect on the way the ovary works
- In women with PCOS, the ovaries appear to make more androgens (male hormones) than normal. High levels of these hormones affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
The symptoms of PCOS can vary from woman to woman, but may include:
PCOS is often linked to infertility as it impairs the body’s ability to release an egg each month.
Infrequent, absent and/or irregular menstrual periods
If you have very irregular or only sporadic periods, this may be an indication you are not ovulating and you may need medical assistance to have a baby.
Hirsutism (excess body hair)
Increased hair growth on the face, chest, stomach and back can indicate a hormonal imbalance and is often seen in patients with PCOS.
Cysts on the ovaries
As the name suggests, PCOS is associated with the appearance of multiple cysts on the ovaries. These cysts impact on the ability to ovulate normally and can therefore impact fertility.
Because of the hormonal imbalances caused, those with PCOS often experience acne.
Weight gain or obesity
As with acne, the hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS frequently contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Can be caused by ovarian cysts and/or abdominal bloating often associated with PCOS.
People with PCOS, especially those who experience weight gain or suffer from obesity, are more likely to endure disordered sleep due to disrupted breathing patterns.
Anxiety or depression
Research has shown that the symptoms of PCOS such as acne, weight gain, hirsutism and infertility can negatively impact self-confidence, mood and body image all of which can contribute to anxiety and/or depression.
How does PCOS affect fertility?
The complex hormonal imbalance associated with PCOS causes tiny cysts on the surface of the ovaries, as well as irregular menstrual cycles (oligomenorrhea) or no menstrual cycle (amenorrhea).
As a result, while most women who have PCOS will conceive, they often take longer to fall pregnant and are more likely to need fertility treatment than women without PCOS.