What is PCOS?

PCOS is an acronym for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. It is a condition in which a female has an imbalance of hormones in her system. Unfortunately, it can cause a host of undesirable problems from trouble conceiving to period problems and unwanted appearance changes. If left untreated, PCOS can lead to more serious problems, such as heart disease and diabetes over time. 

Although you may have PCOS without cysts on your ovaries, cysts are a very common indicator of polycystic ovary syndrome. The cysts themselves are not harmful, but they do lead to hormonal imbalances. Early diagnosis is key to preventing long-term problems that can arise with PCOS.

What really happens to your hormones with PCOS?

Normally, the ovaries produce a small number of male sex hormones called androgens. When a woman has PCOS, her ovaries make slightly more androgens than normal. This can cause a woman to stop ovulating, develop acne and start growing more facial hair. The body also has trouble using insulin, which causes blood sugar levels to increase. Over time, this can lead to diabetes. 

What causes PCOS?

Truthfully, no one really knows what causes polycystic ovary syndrome, but we do know that genetics are likely to play a role. PCOS does seem to run in families, so your chances of having it are increased if other women in your family have PCOS, irregular periods or diabetes. 

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

PCOS symptoms tend to start mild and increase over time. These may include acne, weight gain and difficulty losing weight, excess hair on the face and body, thinning hair on the scalp, irregular periods, trouble conceiving and depression. 

How is PCOS diagnosed? 

If your doctor determines that you may be at risk for PCOS, or if you are showing some signs, such as increased facial hair, weight gain and high blood pressure, he or she may order a pelvic ultrasound to check for cysts on your ovaries. Oftentimes, doctors can identify PCOS without the need for an ultrasound, but the ultrasound helps rule out other causes of similar symptoms. Hormone testing will rule out other conditions that can have similar symptoms, such as thyroid or glandular problems. 

What is the treatment for PCOS?

Fortunately, if you have PCOS, there is a lot you can do at home to help keep symptoms under control. Regular exercise, a healthy diet and weight control go a long way to keeping PCOS symptoms at bay. Most women who have PCOS could benefit from losing weight – even as few as 10 pounds can make a difference. Also, if you smoke, it is time to stop. Women who smoke tend to have higher androgen levels that may contribute to PCOS symptoms. 

Your doctor may also prescribe birth control pills to reduce symptoms and help keep your menstrual cycles regular. However, if you have PCOS and are actively trying to conceive, your doctor may prescribe fertility medications, or alternatively, surgery if these medications are found to be ineffective. 

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