Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is essentially an imbalance in a woman’s normal hormones that is believed to be caused by the ovaries releasing higher than normal amounts of male type hormones also called androgens. This may cause an imbalance with your female type hormones, leading to erratic menstrual cycles, missed periods, unpredictable ovulation, excess facial hair growth, acne, obesity, dark patches on the skin, skin tags, baldness and infertility.
In most women with PCOS small cysts develop on their ovaries, but you do not need to have cysts on your ovaries to have PCOS. A woman can get PCOS any time after puberty, and it is relatively common, affecting up to 15% of women, most of which are diagnosed in their 20s or 30s. You may have a higher chance of getting PCOS if you are inactive, obese, or if other people in your family have PCOS.
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, though several factors are believed to play a role including genetically higher levels of androgens, insulin resistance, obesity, and inflammation. A diagnosis of PCOS is made by your provider based on your medical symptoms, a physical exam, blood work and an Ultrasound of your ovaries (you can have PCOS without cysts).
PCOS has been shown to put you at a higher risk for several health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, sleep apnea, and depression.
Treating PCOS is based on your symptom severity, other health conditions and if you want to get pregnant. Treatments can include supplements, acupuncture, lifestyle changes, medications, or a combination thereof.
There is no proven way to prevent PCOS, but you can take steps to reduce your likelihood of developing PCOS and the severity of your symptoms. Steps include eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, managing your weight and decreasing inflammation. Even a small increase in exercise or decrease in weight can have a large effect on your hormone imbalances.
~Dr. Lawrence Hutchison, MD