USC Fertility


5 Things You Should Know About Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

1. PCOS is a Common Condition
PCOS is one of the most common causes of irregular menstrual periods. It’s a chronic condition that occurs in about 5 to 10 percent of women. It causes irregular menstrual periods and high levels of male hormones in women. These elevated levels can cause excessive hair growth in areas such as the face and back, and can cause male-pattern balding or thinning of hair. These hormones can also cause severe acne. Although PCOS is not completely reversible, there are several treatments that can improve these symptoms so that most women with PCOS are able to lead a normal life without major problems.

2. Unbalanced Hormones from the Brain and the Ovary Are the Cause
Though the precise cause of PCOS is not completely understood, it’s largely believed to result from hormone imbalances originating in the pituitary gland of the brain and in the ovary itself. The pituitary gland is responsible for producing two of the key hormones involved in preparing the body to ovulate. These are called luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).

These hormones are produced in a very organized sequence in women without PCOS who have regular menstrual periods. In women with PCOS, the sequence is altered resulting in lack of ovulation and irregular periods. In all women, the ovaries produce female hormones including estrogen and progesterone as well as small amounts of male hormones such as testosterone. In women with PCOS, the ovaries produce too much male hormone, which results in excessive hair growth (or hair loss in male patterns) and acne.

3. The “Cysts” of PCOS are not Actually Cysts
Rather, they are the consequence of eggs that never grew enough to reach the point of ovulation. All eggs grow within fluid-filled structures called follicles inside the ovary. Follicles need to reach a size of at least 14 millimeters to ovulate. In women with PCOS, follicles rarely grow beyond 10 millimeters. Since they do not reach the point at which they can ovulate, they accumulate in the ovary and look like cysts.

4. PCOS Can Increase the Risk of Long-Term Health Conditions
Women with PCOS are at increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, uterine cancer, and infertility. If you think you have PCOS, it’s important to see your doctor regularly since these conditions can be prevented and/or treated.

5. Diet and Exercise Work Help
Women with PCOS have the power to reduce their risk of long-term health problems by maintaining a healthy diet and by exercising regularly. Sometimes these two things are all it takes to prevent diabetes and heart disease. In some women, medications may also be necessary, particularly in women with infertility.

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