Facebook Pixel

What Is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

By HERWriter
Rate This

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in which there is an imbalance in a woman's female sex hormones. It is common in women of reproductive age affecting as many as five million women in the United States. It can occur in girls as young as 11 years old.

The condition’s name comes from the appearance of the ovaries in most, but not all, women with PCOS. They are enlarged and contain numerous small cysts located along the outer edge of the ovary.

PCOS was first recognized in the 1930s, but doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes it. Research suggests that women with PCOS may produce too much insulin, which signals their ovaries to release extra male hormones (androgens). In women with PCOS, their ovaries make more androgens than normal.

Symptoms vary in both type and severity. To be diagnosed with PCOS, your doctor looks for at least two of the following: menstrual abnormality, high levels of male hormones (which may result in excess facial and body hair, acne and male-pattern baldness), and polycystic ovaries. Despite the name, polycystic ovaries alone don’t confirm the diagnosis.

Other conditions associated with PCOS include infertility, obesity, type-2 diabetes and a skin condition causing darkened, velvety skin on the nape of the neck, armpits, inner thighs, vulva or under the breasts.

There is no single test to diagnose PCOS. But being properly diagnosed is critical as getting treatment for PCOS reduces one’s chances of serious side effects. Long-term complications include heart disease and stroke. Doctors take several steps to determine if it is PCOS or something else. These include: taking medical histories and conducting physical and pelvic exams. He or she will also perform blood tests to check the androgen hormone and glucose levels and/or a vaginal ultrasound to examine ovaries for cysts and check the endometrium. This lining may be thicker if periods aren’t regular.

Although there's no cure for PCOS, there are several ways the condition can be treated and managed. Doctors typically recommend patients adjust their lifestyle habits if obesity is a problem. Obesity makes insulin resistance worse. Weight loss can reduce both insulin and androgen levels, and may restore ovulation.

Sometimes doctors prescribe medications to treat PCOS to help reduce androgen levels and regulate menstrual cycles. These may include birth control pills or progesterone. These medicines may also help control acne and excessive hair growth. Some doctors may prescribe medication for type 2 diabetes in order to lower insulin levels.

Stacy Lloyd is a writer and video producer. A former television news journalist, she covered stories around the world. Currently, she produces corporate and non-profit videos and broadcast programming.

Add a Comment5 Comments

My Question is if an obese person find it hard to shade weight and she is trying to conceive will it be advisable for her to take the birth control pills or what other medication she could take. thanks

November 12, 2010 - 4:59am
(reply to kaykem)

Hi Kaykem

I'm not sure I understand your question...if you are trying to conceive you should not take birth control pills, because they prevent pregnancy.

Can you explain further if I have totally misunderstood you?

November 12, 2010 - 7:20am
(reply to Cary Cook BSN RN)

my Question is how do i treat pcos as an obese patient and also have irregular menstrual period(28 days circle -2 days minimal flow, with clothed discharge at times)
Also and i have been trying to conceive for 11 months now. how do i treat such issues since my symptom suggest pcos with hormonal disorders

November 12, 2010 - 7:46am
(reply to kaykem)

Have you consulted with a gynecologist? That is your first step. You can have testing done to see where your hormones are, etc., and discuss fertility treatments or the best plan to help you conceive. We can't really diagnose or suggest treatment plans here.

Please see a gynecologist and an endocrinologist for diagnosis and a treatment plan. Good luck.

November 12, 2010 - 7:52am
(reply to Cary Cook BSN RN)

Thanks i have but the doctors have been on strike for sometime now and the private Gynecologist did not help matters, thanks for the internet help and i had read more about my symptoms.
I hope the government will think of its citizens health and give ears to the health workers complains.
my last visit diagnosed heavy growth of staph. aureus which he prescribed antibiotics medication for 10 days. and i still have the pelvic pain and my menstrual days is still not improved and the flow had gone worst from what it used to be. Honestly am confused because at the moment am thinking of herbal alternative treatment. Towards my conditions

November 12, 2010 - 8:05am
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Sexual Health

Get Email Updates

Resource Centers

Related Checklists

Sexual Health Guide

HERWriter Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!