Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of infertility in women.
According to the U.S. Department of Health, about 10 percent of women in the U.S. have PCOS. PCOS is primarily caused by a hormonal imbalance, even though from the name it might seem that it’s caused by cysts in your ovaries.
Instead, the reproductive hormones are responsible for problems in your ovaries. Mainly, the unbalanced hormones either keep the egg that the ovaries produce from developing correctly or from dropping during ovulation. Either way, it leads to irregular periods and problems getting pregnant.
If you have more questions about PCOS, we encourage you to talk to your gynecologist about your symptoms.
What causes PCOS?
The cause of PCOS is actually largely unknown.
Doctors know that more women who are overweight develop PCOS, but that’s not to say that women who are thin don’t get it. PCOS also seems to be genetic, so if your mom or sister has it, your chances go up.
The most important thing is to watch for signs and symptoms of PCOS so that you can catch it early and begin treatment.
What are the common symptoms of PCOS?
Most women start seeing symptoms of PCOS when they’re in their 20s and 30s, but it can start as early as puberty. Usually, it comes to light when women try to have children and can’t get pregnant. If you have more than 1 common symptom of PCOS, you should talk to your gynecologist right away.
Here are the most common symptoms of PCOS:
- Irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles
- Excessive weight gain
- Hair in unwanted places
- Mood changes
- Dark skin spots or skin tags
How do I know if I have PCOS?
Even though PCOS is pretty common, many women don’t even know they have it.
One thing that makes it difficult to diagnose is that there’s no test to confirm or deny that you have PCOS. However, there are a few different ways a gynecologist could determine if you might have PCOS:
- Blood test. A blood test can be done to check your hormone levels. OB/GYNs look particularly for the level of androgen hormone in your body. This “male hormone” is usually elevated in women with PCOS. This hormone causes some of the symptoms like acne and hair growth on your chin, back and/or chest.
- Pelvic exam. Your gynecologist can do a pelvic exam to feel for enlarged ovaries, which is common in women with PCOS.
- An ultrasound of your ovaries can be done to check for cysts and your uterus to check the endometrium (uterine lining).
How is PCOS treated?
Treatment for PCOS depends a lot on what stage of life you’re in. If you’re trying to get pregnant, then your doctor may recommend certain fertility treatments. If you’re worried more about other health issues that can surface as a result of having PCOS, then your doctor may recommend medication (i.e. hormonal birth control) and ways to lose excess weight.
You cannot cure PCOS with any medication or treatment, but you can manage symptoms and help to balance out hormones that are too low or too high.