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What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?

By EmpowHER February 2, 2012 - 11:37pm

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder, affecting 5-10 percent of all women worldwide. Women diagnosed with PCOS have abnormal levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which are responsible for helping the egg mature during ovulation. The overproduction of LH causes the ovaries to overproduce androgens, which disrupt the ovulatory process. This causes the partially-developed egg to die within the follicle, thereby forming small cysts within the ovaries. The name PCOS is derived from the degenerate eggs that have built up in the ovaries. The cysts are generally non-cancerous, but they can cause other major reproductive health concerns.

PCOS is a hereditary disorder caused by the insensitivity to the hormone insulin. Women who have a mom or sibling that has been diagnosed with PCOS have a 50 percent chance of developing the condition themselves. PCOS can be diagnosed as early as 8 years old, all the way through menopause.

Symptoms of PCOS:
The symptoms of PCOS start in the early teen years and are frequently misdiagnosed for other medical problems.
Symptoms include:
• Irregular menstrual cycles or skipped menstrual cycles
• Weight gain or inability to gain weight
• Excessive facial and body hair growth
• Acne
• Male pattern baldness
• Infertility or miscarriage
• Dark velvety patches on the skin

What are the health effects of PCOS?
Although most women are diagnosed with the disorder while trying to conceive, the reproductive aspects of the disorder are secondary to the other health risks. Women with PCOS are more prone to obesity or low weight. Because of their body’s reaction to the mismanagement of glucose (storing it as fat instead of using it for energy), many women experience chronic fatigue and malnourishment. Women with PCOS are more prone to diabetes and heart disease. 40 percent of women who are diagnosed with PCOS are considered to be below normal weight because of their body’s overreaction to how insulin is processed. Women with PCOS are also more prone to developing endometrial cancer.

Can PCOS be cured?
There is no cure for PCOS, but it can be successfully managed through diet, exercise and medical intervention. Management of PCOS is essential, as unmanaged PCOS can progress to diabetes and certain forms of cancer. Proper management of PCOS often eliminates most symptoms including infertility. Some women with managed PCOS are among the healthiest women within the population because of their lifestyle choices.

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