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What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects women.

PCOS affects as many as 1 in 20 women.

How does PCOS affect you?
There are many ways PCOS affects the body:

  • Increased facial and body hair
  • Acne on the back and chest
  • A tendency to be overweight
  • Irregular or absent periods causing infertility

These symptoms of PCOS are believed to result from an increased level of the male hormone testosterone in the system.

Women with normal sized ovaries and menstrual cycles can be found to have PCOS.

PCOS can begin as early as puberty.

Recent studies link PCOS with insulin resistance, suggest women with PCOS are more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes.

PCOS is also believed to increase the risk of heart disease, stoke and uterine and breast cancer.

PCOS signs are similar in most patients, but race can produce different symptoms. In the US 70% of women present with hirsutism, while in Japan this drops to 10-20%.

Does PCOS cause infertility?
The affects of PCOS can vary dramatically from patient to patient. For women trying to conceive a child, PCOS is a serious, it is a common cause of infertility - nearly half of all female factor infertility cases can be traced to PCOS. New medical insight into the disease has led to treatment options, including insulin-reducing ovulation medication, dietary changes (low glycemic diet) and surgery (ovarian drilling), which have proven successful and allow many women to overcome PCOS and conceive a child naturally, while reducing the risk of miscarriage. Women who undergo treatment for PCOS but are still unable to conceive naturally often turn to assisted reproductive technologies, including IVF, and experience high pregnancy success rates.

Is there a link between weight and PCOS?
It is yet to be proven that being over weight causes PCOS or if PCOS contributes to being overweight. In either case, being over weight does not impact positively on health. Reducing weight levels can also help bring the function of the ovaries back to normal as well as reducing insulin resistance.

What treatments are available?
In the past, the individual symptoms were treated. Now it is more common for treatments to concentrate on effecting change in insulin resistance levels. Correcting insulin resistance in turn improves many of the symptoms of the condition.

Diet and exercise: Weight loss leads to decreased insulin resistance and a fall in testosterone levels. Outward improvements include reduced hirsutism, and a return of menstrual cycles in some women.

Metformin and newer glitazone antibiabetic medications decrease insulin resistance and the amount of insulin in the blood. They may also normalize ovulation

There are a range of other treatments that are used to gain overall control of symptoms including: the contraceptive pill and acne medications.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder in women, affecting an estimated five to ten million women of reproductive age.