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What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that causes irregular menstruation and other symptoms.

Women with PCOS have higher than usual levels of male hormones called androgens. If you have the condition, the hormonal imbalance will prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation). Without monthly ovulation, you can miss periods or have no periods. When you do have a period, you may also experience heavy bleeding.

In addition to irregular periods, you may also have other signs and symptoms of PCOS, including: 

  • Excess hair growth on the face, chest or belly 
  • Small, fluid-filled sacs called cysts on the ovaries
  • Hair loss around the temples and front of the head
  • Infertility
  • Insulin resistance
  • Severe acne or oily skin
  • Weight gain around the waist

You do not need to experience all of these symptoms to receive a PCOS diagnosis.

PCOS affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, yet many may be unaware they have the condition because symptoms can be mild or go unnoticed.


What causes PCOS?

Physicians do not know the exact cause of PCOS; however, lifestyle, genetic factors and how the body processes insulin may contribute to the condition. 


What are the complications of PCOS?

Women with PCOS may also develop health problems like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea. Uterine cancer can also appear in women with irregular menstrual cycles over many years. Women with PCOS also commonly have trouble becoming pregnant.


How is PCOS treated?

Effective treatment will depend on factors such as age, the severity of your symptoms, if you want to become pregnant, and overall health.

If you want to become pregnant, a physician may advise you to lose weight by changing your diet or activity level. Losing weight may help lessen some symptoms and prevent health complications like diabetes and heart disease. Physicians may also prescribe medication to cause ovulation and help increase the likelihood of getting pregnant.


How is PCOS diagnosed?

No single test can diagnose PCOS. A doctor will assess your symptoms and health history and may order blood tests or imaging studies to reach a diagnosis. You may be diagnosed with PCOS if your doctor discovers two of the following criteria:

  • Cysts on one or both ovaries
  • Irregular menstrual periods 
  • Physical signs such as excess body hair, acne or abdominal weight gain 


When should I see a doctor for PCOS?

PCOS is a complex condition that affects your entire body. Schedule an appointment with your doctor or gynecologist for further evaluation. Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.

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