How Can You Tell If You HavePolycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that affects how a woman's ovaries work.

The three main characteristics of PCOS are as follows:

  • Periods that are irregular imply that your ovaries do not release eggs on a regular basis (ovulation)
  • Excess androgen – a buildup of "male" hormones in your body, which can manifest as excess facial or body hair.
  • Polycystic ovaries occur when your ovaries enlarge and contain a large number of fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs (but despite the name, you do not actually have cysts if you have PCOS)

If you have at least two of these characteristics, you may have PCOS.

Polycystic ovaries

Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles ranging in size from 8mm (approximately 0.3in) to 10mm (approximately 0.3in). Follicles are immature sacs in which eggs develop. These sacs are frequently unable to release an egg in PCOS, which means that ovulation does not occur. It's difficult to say how many women have PCOS, but it's thought to be very common, affecting about one out of every ten women in the UK. More than half of these women are asymptomatic.

Symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

The most common symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Irregular periods: Abnormal menstruation involves missing periods or not having a period at all. It may also involve heavy bleeding during periods.
  • Abnormal hair growth: Excess facial hair and heavy hair growth on the arms, chest and abdomen (hirsutism). This affects up to 70% of women with PCOS.
  • Acne: PCOS can cause acne, especially on the back, chest and face. This acne may continue past the teenage years and may be difficult to treat.
  • Obesity: About 80% of women with PCOS are overweight or have obesity, and have trouble losing weight.
  • Darkening of the skin: Patches of dark skin, especially in the folds of your neck, armpits, groin (between the legs) and under the breasts. This is known as acanthosis nigricans.
  • Cysts: Many women with PCOS have small pockets of fluid in their ovaries.
  • Skin tags: Skin tags are little flaps of extra skin. They're often found in the armpits or on the neck in women with PCOS.
  • Thinning hair: People with PCOS may lose patches of hair on their heads or start to go bald.
  • Infertility: PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. Decreased frequency or lack of ovulation can result in not being able to conceive.

What causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

Although the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, it frequently runs in families. It is linked to abnormal hormone levels in the body, including high insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Many women with PCOS are resistant to the action of insulin in their bodies and produce more insulin to compensate. This contributes to increased hormone production and activity, such as testosterone. Being overweight or obese causes your body to produce more insulin.

Treating polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Although there is no cure for PCOS, the symptoms can be managed. If you suspect you have the condition, consult your doctor. If you have PCOS and are overweight, losing weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet can help alleviate some of your symptoms. There are also medications available to treat symptoms such as excessive hair growth, irregular periods, and fertility issues.

If fertility medications do not work, a simple surgical procedure known as laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) may be suggested. This procedure entails using heat or a laser to destroy the tissue in the ovaries that produces androgens like testosterone. Most women with PCOS are able to conceive with treatment.

Is it possible to have PCOS without exhibiting any symptoms?

Yes, it is possible to have PCOS without experiencing any symptoms. Many people are unaware they have the condition until they are unable to conceive or gain weight for unknown reasons. It's also possible to have mild PCOS, in which the symptoms aren't severe enough to be noticed.

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Long-term health risks of PCOS

PCOS is associated with the following long-term health risks:

  • insulin resistance
  • increased risk of the development of diabetes, especially if women are overweight
  • cholesterol and blood fat abnormalities
  • cardiovascular disease (heart disease, heart attack and stroke)
  • endometrial cancer (if there is long-standing thickening of the lining of the womb).

There are a number of signs and symptoms that you should be aware of if you think PCOS may be affecting your health. If these sound like something you’ve been experiencing, call us today to make an appointment with one of our specialists! We can help diagnose what is going on inside your body so we can figure out the best course for treatment. Remember, it doesn't have to take over your life - let's get started now!

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