Have you been trying without success to get pregnant? Are your periods irregular or missing all together? If so, polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS could be part of the problem.
PCOS is a condition that affects between 5 and 10 percent of women in their childbearing years, according to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health. (2) It has been known to start in girls as young as age 11, and symptoms can continue past menopause.
Researchers believe PCOS is connected with a hormone imbalance. Hormones are chemical messengers that carry instructions through the body to keep all of our systems working together.
Women with PCOS tend to have higher-than-normal levels of hormones known as androgens. Androgens are typically referred to as male hormones because they have a more active role in men than in women. But it is normal for women to have low levels of androgens in addition to the female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
In women, androgens can affect how eggs are released from the ovaries in a process called ovulation. During a woman’s normal monthly cycle, hormones trigger the ovaries to release a mature egg from follicles or pockets on the surface of the ovary.
The hormone imbalance common in PCOS may prevent the eggs from maturing as they should. When this happens, the follicles on the ovary can fill with fluid, but do not release mature eggs. These swollen follicles form cysts on the surface of the ovary that can be seen during an ultrasound exam.
In order for a woman to get pregnant, her ovaries must release mature eggs that can be fertilized to create a baby. Because PCOS interferes with the maturing and releasing of eggs, the disease can make it difficult to get pregnant.
Researchers also believe that insulin resistance may be linked to PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that is produced in the pancreas of both men and women. Insulin acts as a key to allow cells in the body to take in sugar or glucose from the blood. All cells need sugar as a source of energy.
In people who are insulin resistant, the cells resist the work of insulin which means they don’t draw sugar out of the bloodstream the way they should.