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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms and Causes

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder which affects women during their reproductive years and can impact their ability to reproduce. Women with PCOS tend to produce excessive male hormones, which causes an imbalance in the body leading to a gap in menstrual periods. Women with PCOS can have prolonged or infrequent periods, causing ovaries to develop various small collections of fluids known as follicles which make it harder for them to release eggs, hence, impacting their ability to get pregnant.

PCOS causes abnormal growth of hair on the face and body, or could even lead to baldness. It can severely impact the health of the woman and cause problems such as diabetes and heart issues. The exact reason for PCOS is not known; however early diagnosis, treatment, medications, healthy weight maintenance, etc. can help maintain the quality of life and reduce long-term complications.

Symptoms of PCOS

Symptoms of PCOS in women often develop around their first period during puberty. But in many cases, the symptoms are neglected because of them not being significant enough. In many women, the condition develops later because of substantial weight gain. The symptoms of the problem vary from case-to-case; however, common symptoms which can indicate the presence of the problem include:

Irregularity in menstrual periods: Women with PCOS either have prolonged, irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles; such as abnormally long period, heavy flow, or merely nine periods in the whole year.

Excessive levels of androgen: Women suffering from PCOS tend to produce excessive levels of male hormones in the body, causing symptoms such as overgrowth of facial and body hair, baldness, severe acne, etc.

Polycystic Ovaries: In PCOS, women tend to have enlarged ovaries with follicles that surround the eggs, resulting in the ovaries failing to function properly. These follicles are small, fluid-filled sacs that grow inside the ovaries, causing the eggs to never mature to trigger ovulation. Lack of ovulation leads to abnormally high levels of androgen while reducing the good hormones estrogen, progesterone, FSH and LH.

Women who are overweight or obese tend to suffer from severe symptoms. Some other symptoms include gaining weight due to PCOS, darkening of the skin, headaches, mood changes, pelvic pain, etc.

Causes of PCOS

The exact cause of PCOS cannot be determined; however, some factors can heighten the risk of a woman being affected by the problem as compared to others.

Excess Insulin: Women with higher levels of insulin in the body are at more risk of developing PCOS as compared to others with normal levels of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas which is responsible for promoting effective use of sugar by the cells, which is ultimately the source of energy in the body. In case, the cells become resistant to the impact of insulin, this can elevate the levels of sugar in the body, causing the body to produce more insulin which will subsequently lead to the production of androgen, leading to problems in ovulation.

Low-grade inflammation: Women suffering from PCOS have low-grade inflammation whichimpacts thebody’s white cells’ production of substances, necessary to fight infection and keep the body healthy. Low-grade inflammation fuels polycystic ovaries to produce androgens, which are very harmful to the heart and blood vessels.

Genes: As per doctors, the presence of certain types of genes or a family history of PCOS can affect a woman’s ability to be affected by the problem.

High Androgen: In women with PCOS, the ovaries dysfunction to produce abnormally increased levels of androgen, causing acne and hirsutism.

Complications of PCOS

PCOS can lead to various health issues if not diagnosed and treated effectively:

  • Infertility
  • High blood pressure caused due to pregnancy
  • Gestational diabetes, pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes
  • Premature birth
  • Miscarriage
  • Accumulation of fat in the liver leading to severe inflammation
  • Metabolic syndrome which causes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and increases the risk of cardiovascular problems
  • Sleep apnea
  • Unexplained uterine bleeding
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Cancer of the uterine lining known as endometrial cancer

Diagnosis of PCOS

Apart from identifying symptoms – such as excessive male hormones, severe acne, irregularity in periods, cysts in ovaries, high androgen levels, facial and body hair growth, etc. – certain diagnostic exams can help to detect the condition in women.

A pelvic exam to check for problems with ovaries or any other reproductive tract; the doctor inserts gloved fingers in the vagina to check for any growth in the ovaries or the uterus.

Blood tests are conducted to check for levels of various indicators such as androgen levels, cholesterol, insulin, triglyceride levels, etc. A blood test can also likely indicate the possibility of heart disease.

An ultrasound which uses high-frequency sound waves to check for abnormal follicles and other problems related to the uterus or the ovaries can be very helpful in the diagnosis of PCOS in women.

PCOS can be very complicated health problem which can cause various serious health issues including lack of reproductive ability and heart issues. Preventive measures and regular screenings as suggested by the doctor can help women to stay clear of the problem or have an early diagnosis to effectively maintain the quality of life.

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