According to the Canadian Women’s Health Network, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (known more commonly as PCOS) affects anywhere from 6 to 10 percent of women. PCOS is a hormone-related disease that causes the ovaries to produce higher than normal amounts the male hormone known as androgens, causing interference in the production of eggs, which then ultimately leads to the development of cysts that can not only build up in the ovaries, but also become enlarged.
As for who gets PCOS, it can happen at any age after puberty (as early as age 15) all the way to age 44; however, it is most commonly discovered in women who are in their 20s or 30s. In some cases, women may not even be initially aware that they have the condition. There is no known cause of PCOS, though research has found potential links between it and high insulin production, as well as inflammation. Studies have also found PCOS to run in families.
There many symptoms that are associated with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, each of which can vary in intensity. Due to the imbalance of hormones that are associated with this condition, a woman may find it difficult to get pregnant as well as notice that they do not have a menstrual period or that their periods are irregular. It’s also possible to develop heavier bleeding than usual with PCOS. Further symptoms of PCOS can include skin issues, such as skin tags and darkening of the skin, hair thinning or excess hair growth (on the face and body), acne, weight gain, headaches, and even anxiety or depression. Having higher than normal androgens can also impact your body in other ways, too. For example, you could develop metabolic syndrome (this includes high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure), sleep apnea, and you’re even at an increased risk of developing endometrial cancer.
PCOS is diagnosed through a variety of different methods, including the symptoms in which the patient presents to their physician with, as well as upon a physical exam. Further testing, such as a vaginal ultrasound, can also detect if there are any ovarian cysts, while blood tests can also be done to measure hormone, insulin and glucose levels – as well as to rule out any other conditions that have symptoms similar to PCOS, such as thyroid disease.
While there is no cure for PCOS, there are certain treatments available that can help to balance out the hormones in your body as well as relieve some of the symptoms you experience. There are also certain lifestyle changes you can make in effort to help yourself. For example, having a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise can help regulate your cycles, while avoiding certain endocrine disrupting chemicals may also be beneficial.
One of the most common questions that women with PCOS ask is whether or not they will be able to get pregnant. Because women with PCOS do not ovulate regularly, your doctor may decide to put you on a medication to stimulate ovulation – though there is no guarantee it will work. When all avenues have been exhausted, you could be a candidate for certain procedures – including laparoscopic ovarian surgery, as well as in vitro fertilization (also known as IVF.)