5 Facts About PCOS

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can affect your entire body. Learn more about this condition and what can be done to treat it.

  • PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders in women of reproductive age, but it often goes undiagnosed. About 5 million American women have PCOS, and it can occur in girls as young as age 11. No one knows exactly what causes PCOS, but genetics are suspected to play a role. An underlying problem is a hormonal imbalance in the ovaries that causes a higher production of androgens (male hormones also made by the ovaries) than normal. Because the symptoms can mimic other, less serious problems, the condition is often overlooked.
  • PCOS can cause different symptoms in different women. Not everyone who has PCOS has the same symptoms, but common problems include abnormal or infrequent menstrual periods, increased body hair growth, cysts on the ovaries, acne, weight gain, and skin tags.
  • PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in women. Many women find out they have PCOS only when they have difficulty conceiving. In women with PCOS, a hormone imbalance prevents ovulation and the creation of the hormone progesterone. PCOS often causes clusters of small cysts to develop on the ovaries.
  • PCOS greatly increases your risk for several serious health conditions. More than 50 percent of women with this condition will have diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance before they turn 40, and their risk of heart attack is as much as seven times higher in women with PCOS. High blood pressure and cholesterol, sleep apnea, and endometrial cancer are conditions associated with PCOS. It’s also likely that you could develop anxiety and depression if you have PCOS.
  • Treatment for PCOS is individualized based on your goals. Depending on your symptoms, medical history and needs, your physician may recommend a variety of treatment options for PCOS. Because PCOS is linked to diabetes, eating a healthy diet, limiting dietary sugars and increasing your daily amount of exercise is important for your health. Birth control pills can help manage many symptoms of PCOS, including irregular menstrual cycles, high male hormone levels and acne. If you are trying to get pregnant, fertility treatments are also available to help you conceive.


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