What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a women's health problem. It happens when you have an imbalance of hormones in your body. Despite the name, this condition doesn't always cause cysts. PCOS causes problems with reproductive hormones and metabolism. These may lead to problems with weight gain and trouble getting pregnant, among other things. It's a common condition that affects 1 in 10 women.

Causes of PCOS

The exact cause of PCOS is still unknown. Some doctors and scientists believe that it's a combination of several factors. Some of these factors include:

  • Inflammation
  • Family history
  • High levels of "male" hormones
  • Low levels of "female" hormones
  • Too much insulin, a hormone that controls your body's blood sugar levels

Risk factors for PCOS

PCOS affects women of all races who are of childbearing age. The two biggest risk factors for developing PCOS are being overweight or obese and having a family history of the condition. This means that if you have a family member who has PCOS, you may be more likely to get it, too.

Symptoms of PCOS

The primary symptom of PCOS is irregular or missed periods. Symptoms often appear shortly after puberty. Women may also develop symptoms later in life. Some of the symptoms of PCOS go unnoticed. That means the condition often goes undiagnosed for a long time. These symptoms include:

  • Acne
  • Headaches
  • Pelvic pain
  • Changes in mood
  • Cysts on the ovaries
  • Hair thinning or loss
  • Unwanted hair growth
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Trouble getting pregnant
  • Fatigue and problems sleeping

Diagnosis of PCOS

There isn't a single test for PCOS. Instead, doctors do multiple tests to rule out other conditions first. Your doctor may start with a physical exam. This includes routine tests, like checking your blood pressure and weight. Next, your doctor looks for changes in your skin and hair. Doctors also can do pelvic exams to check your ovaries. They can look for anything unusual. Your doctor might also take a sample of your blood to check your hormone levels. They can test for other conditions that may cause similar symptoms.

Your doctor will ask you about symptoms you're experiencing. You might have to answer questions about your periods and how often they happen. If you have at least two of the symptoms that go along with PCOS, your doctor may make the diagnosis.

Treatment for PCOS

There isn't a cure for PCOS. Instead, treatment focuses on specific symptoms. Your doctor may start by recommending lifestyle changes that help you lose weight. Even a small drop in weight can eliminate some of the symptoms of PCOS. It also can help the other treatments work better.

Your doctor may also prescribe medication to help regulate your period. Hormonal birth control pills can help with your period and acne. These are a good option if you don't want to get pregnant. Clomid is a medication that helps you ovulate. Your doctor might prescribe it if you're trying to get pregnant. Other medications can help with hair loss, excess hair growth, insulin levels, and other symptoms.

Recovery from PCOS

There is no cure for PCOS. You may need to have long-term treatments. Symptoms don't go away on their own. They also don't always go away with menopause. Maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle are the best treatments for reducing the symptoms. Once your symptoms are under control, you improve your chances of getting pregnant. Some women need other treatments to get pregnant.

Your doctor can help you manage your symptoms. They can also keep an eye on your PCOS when you go to regular checkups. Be sure to schedule and keep annual appointments with your primary care doctor and gynecologist. This helps you monitor your symptoms and prevent any complications.

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