What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common hormone disorder that affects 5%-10% of women. Like all syndromes, PCOS is a collection of problems that are found together. Not all women with PCOS have all the same symptoms. To be diagnosed with PCOS, a woman must have 2 of 3 possible issues:
1. Chronic lack of ovulation (anovulation)
2. Chronic high testosterone (hormone) levels (hyperandrogenism), and
3. Ovaries that have multiple small cysts containing eggs (polycystic).
How is PCOS diagnosed?
Because this condition is diagnosed by identifying several different problems, PCOS is diagnosed using a combination of physical exam and history, ultrasound (sonogram), and blood tests.
On exam, women who have PCOS usually complain of irregular or missed menstrual periods or a long time between periods. They may also be overweight, have increased hair growth (hirsutism), acne, or be unable to get pregnant. On ultrasound, many women with PCOS have enlarged ovaries with many small cysts. Blood tests may show high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels, or high levels of male hormones.
What risks do women have with PCOS?
Some of the risks are related to a woman not ovulating regularly. When ovulation doesn’t happen, it interrupts the usual hormone cycle and causes levels of estrogen making the lining of the uterus to thick and causing abnormal bleeding. Over time, it can lead to pre-cancerous changes or uterine cancer. This lack of regular ovulation can also make it difficult to get pregnant.
Metabolic syndrome is common in women with PCOS. Symptoms include extra weight around the middle, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance/diabetes. Each of these symptoms raises the risk of heart disease. Obesity is common in women with PCOS.
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