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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, also known as PCOS, is an endocrine disorder caused by the imbalance of female sex hormones. Female sex hormones include progesterone, estrogen and a hormone known as androgens. Androgens are also called male hormones and in patients that have PCOS androgens levels are elevated above normal and there are changes in the other hormones as well. Women are often diagnosed in their late teenage years through their 30’s due to abnormal menstrual periods or the inability to conceive. While the specific cause as to why hormones become imbalanced is unknown to medical professionals, there have been a few factors that research has shown may contribute to developing it.
Some of these factors are: too much insulin causing the ovaries to produce more androgens, heredity, and it has been shown that women with PCOS often have low-grade inflammation which can cause insulin resistance due to substances produced by white blood cells that fight inflammation. Abnormal fetal development has also been thought to be a factor, though research is still trying to determine to what extent.
When an egg is released from an ovary it is called ovulation and happens each month as part of the menstrual cycle. The eggs of women with PCOS often do not mature, therefore are not released and may cause small cysts on the ovaries. This is a leading cause of infertility in women. The imbalance of hormones causes other issues such as irregular menstrual periods that can range from very light to very heavy, a longer than normal cycle, and the absence of periods after having at least a few normal periods. The increased amount of androgens can cause physical signs like acne, thinning hair, obesity, and abnormal facial or body hair. Some long term risk factors of PCOS, due to the inability to lose weight the way one without PCOS would on the same diet and exercise routine, include high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and heart disease.
Since there is no test that is specific to diagnose PCOS it is usually done so by ruling out other diseases or disorders. This is done through going through a patient’s medical history, a physical exam, blood tests to check hormone levels, and pelvic ultrasounds where a visual of the ovaries and uterus can help determine growths. Treating PCOS is very individualized based on the patients concerns. Medication may be prescribed to treat the extra hair growth, acne, or birth control to regulate menstruation. Non medication treatments are often dietary changes and watching weight through exercise. In situations where medication does not work and a woman wants to conceive, a surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling may be an option. Polycystic ovarian syndrome may affect as many as 1 in every 15 women