What is PCOS?

Most women with PCOS grow a number of small cysts, or fluid-filled sacs, on their ovaries. The cysts are not harmful, but they can lead to an imbalance in hormone levels.

Women with PCOS may also experience menstrual cycle abnormalities, increased androgen (sex hormone) levels, excess hair growth, acne, and obesity.

In addition to the many health conditions associated with PCOS, which will be discussed in this article, PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in women – because it can prevent ovulation.

Women who can conceive with PCOS have a higher incidence of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and premature delivery.


Currently, there is no known cause of PCOS. However, there are associations with excess insulin, low-grade inflammation, and genetics.


Apart from cysts on the ovaries, symptoms of PCOS include:

irregular menses
excess androgen levels
sleep apnea
high stress levels
high blood pressure
skin tags
acne, oily skin, and dandruff
high cholesterol and triglycerides
acanthosis nigricans, or dark patches of skin
female pattern balding
insulin resistance
type 2 diabetes
pelvic pain
depression and anxiety
weight management difficulties including weight gain or difficulty losing weight
excessive facial and body hair growth, known as hirsutism
decreased libido
Tests and diagnosis

No single test can determine the presence of PCOS, but a doctor can diagnose the condition through medical history, a physical exam that includes a pelvic exam, and blood tests to measure hormone, cholesterol, and glucose levels.

An ultrasound may be used to look at the uterus and ovaries.


There is no cure for PCOS, but treatment aims to manage the symptoms that affect an individual.

This will depend on whether the individual wants to become pregnant and aims to reduce the risk of secondary medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

There are several recommended treatment options, including:

Birth control pills: These can help regulate hormones and menstruation.

Diabetes medications: These help manage diabetes, if necessary.

Fertility medications: If pregnancy is desired, these include the use of clomiphene (Clomid), a combination of clomiphene and metformin, or injectable gonadotropins, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) medications. In certain situations, letrozole (Femara) may be recommended.

Fertility treatments: These include in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or inseminations.

Excessive hair growth may be reduced with the drug spironolactone (Aldactone) or eflornithine (Vaniqa). Finasteride (Propecia) may also be recommended, but it should not be handled by women who may become pregnant.

Anyone using spironolactone should use birth control, due to the risk of birth defects if taken while pregnant. Breast-feeding on this medication is not recommended.

Other possible options to manage hair growth is laser hair removal, electrolysis, hormonal treatments, or vitamin and mineral use.

Surgical options include:

Ovarian drilling: Tiny holes made in the ovaries can reduce the levels of androgens being produced.
Oophorectomy: Surgery removes one or both ovaries.
Hysterectomy: This involves removal of all or part of the uterus.
Cyst aspiration: Fluid is removed from the cyst.

Pregnancy and menopause

Women who are affected by PCOS may experience the effects throughout their lifetime.

There may be an increased risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and preterm births.

After delivery, there is an increased risk of the newborn being placed in the neonatal intensive care unit or death before, during, or soon after birth. These complications are more common in multiple births, for example, twins or triplets.

Symptoms such as excessive hair growth and male pattern baldness can last beyond menopause and may become worse.

With aging also comes the risk of the secondary health complications related to PCOS, including heart disease.

Author's Bio: 

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