What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

PCOS is hormonal disorder where there are irregular periods, excessive hair growth on face or body (“hirsutism”), loss of hair on head, oily skin, acne and weight gain along with polycystic ovaries found in ultrasound.

The symptoms vary from woman to woman. Some women have very few mild symptoms, while others are affected more severely by a wider range of symptoms. 

Polycystic ovaries have more number of follicles (fluid-filled spaces containing the eggs), which appear like cysts. However, the “cysts” in PCOS are not tumours. The main problem in PCOS is not the “cysts”, rather cysts are arising because of hormonal problems. 

Presence of polycystic ovaries does not always mean PCOS. 

A diagnosis is made when you have any two of the following:

1. Irregular, infrequent periods or no periods at all 

2. An increase in facial or body hair and/or blood tests that show higher testosterone levels 

3. An ultrasound scan that shows polycystic ovaries. 

It is a quite common condition, affecting 2 to 26 in every 100 women. 

What causes PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is not yet known but it often runs in families. 

The symptoms are related to abnormal hormone levels:

1. Testosterone is a hormone that is produced in small amounts by the ovaries in all women. Women with PCOS have slightly higher than normal levels of testosterone 

2. Insulin is a hormone that controls the level of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood. If you have PCOS, your body may not respond to insulin (“insulin resistance”), so the level of glucose is higher. To try to prevent the glucose levels becoming higher, your body produces even more insulin. High levels of insulin can lead to weight gain, irregular periods, fertility problems and higher levels of testosterone.

Effects of PCOS

Is PCOS related to other diseases?

Effect of PCOS is not limited to the ovaries. Women with PCOS are more prone to develop diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression and mood swings, snoring and daytime drowsiness and sometimes, cancer in the lining of the uterus (endometrium). 

The risks are higher for obese women.

How PCOS is related to the infertility?

Women with PCOS have good number of eggs inside the follicles but they cannot be released (Ovulation). As a result, sperms cannot meet the eggs, leading to infertility. Additionally, obesity, diabetes, high testosterone and insulin level all can be risk factors for infertility.