What Is PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome? – LIVESTRONG.COM

Hormonal birth control, such as the pill, can help reduce some of the symptoms associated with PCOS, as well as regulating your period.

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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex condition that has different symptoms from one person to another. As many as one in 10 people with ovaries of childbearing age in the United States have PCOS, which is also the leading cause of infertility, according to the Office of Women's Health (OWH).

People with PCOS experience a hormonal imbalance which includes higher-than-normal levels of androgens (often referred to as "male" hormones), per the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). This can interfere with regular ovulation and result in symptoms such as extra facial hair.

Another hormonal imbalance found in people with PCOS is insulin resistance, says Mitchell Kramer, MD, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwell Health's Huntington Hospital in Huntington, New York. That means the cells don't respond as well as they should to insulin, the hormone that normally moves sugar out of the bloodstream and into cells. This can cause blood sugar levels to rise.

PCOS Causes and Risk Factors

No one knows exactly what causes the hormonal imbalance behind PCOS, although it seems to be a mix of genetics and lifestyle factors, according to the OWH. The condition can develop as young as 11 or 12, when children have their first period, or when people are in their 20s or 30s, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Here are some of the factors that seem to contribute to PCOS:

There are many different symptoms of PCOS, but in order to be diagnosed with the condition, you need to have at least two of the following three, according to the Mayo Clinic:

Other symptoms of PCOS can include:

It's important to see a doctor, particularly an obstetrician-gynecologist, to get diagnosed for PCOS, Dr. Kramer says.

While there's no one test to diagnose the condition, your doctor will do a general physical exam, ask questions about your family history, learn about your symptoms and do lab and imaging tests. Part of diagnosing PCOS is ruling out other possible causes for the symptoms. Some things your doctor might do include:

There's no cure for PCOS and no one treatment for the condition. Instead, doctors recommend medications and lifestyle measures to manage individual symptoms.

"Treatment is tricky. It isn't one medicine or anything like that to reverse the condition or to restore the hormonal balance," Dr. Naresh says. "It depends on what aspect of the condition you're treating. We don't have a one-shot medicine that can treat all of the aspects."

Treatment tactics for PCOS include:

It's important to get diagnosed and treated if you think you have PCOS. Infrequent periods can raise your risk for endometrial cancer. Thats definitely a major complication, Dr. Naresh says. Its one of the main reasons to treat it.

Other potential complications as a result of PCOS include:

These risks can continue even after menopause.

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What Is PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome? - LIVESTRONG.COM

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