PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is not a new phenomenon. Doctors have been aware of the symptoms for hundreds of years but until now didn’t have the conveniences of modern technology or modern medicine to help them get a deeper grasp of how common it is.
Current research offers important new clues that help them understand what may cause PCOS to occur in some women, and more importantly, the research offers insights as to which direction to go to improve women’s healthcare and to provide better treatment options for those who suffer from the syndrome.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder in women during their reproductive years that presents with irregular periods, excess androgen (male hormone), and possibly polycystic ovaries.
Causes of PCOS:
Your genes play a large part in determining if you will develop PCOS. While you will not directly inherit the condition, you can inherit the risk of developing it. According to a study conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers found that almost twenty-five percent of women with polycystic ovary syndrome had a mother who had suffered from it. Of that same twenty-five percent, thirty-two percent had a sister who had the condition.
If you’re related to someone who has PCOS, you are at a higher risk of developing it. That being said, scientists have not found a PCOS gene, per se.
What can you expect with a PCOS diagnosis:
Most women can expect to gain excess weight. They should be cautioned, though, through no fault of their own, the excess weight (obesity) can contribute to insulin resistance. Even lean women with PCOS can experience insulin resistance, but obesity exacerbates the problem.
This insulin resistance is a flashing warning sign. It’s telling you that you may have prediabetes and/or are at risk of becoming diabetic. When you develop insulin resistance, your body is not able to send glucose to the cells that need fuel. In most cases, the ability to do so lessens over time. When this happens, the pancreas begins to increase the production of insulin to help keep glucose levels stable. The extra insulin production can have negative effects like higher levels of male hormones (androgens, including testosterone) due to the ovaries shutting down. These higher levels can halt ovulation.
If you don’t ovulate regularly, it can lead to amenorrhea, or irregular periods. In some cases, it can also cause infertility, the development of ovarian cysts, severe acne, or excess growth of hair on your neck, chest, face, arms, and legs.
Sudden cases of pelvic pain can indicate one of the aforementioned conditions may be present. Anything out of the ordinary must be communicated to your doctor so appropriate tests can be run, such as an ultrasound.
Some women experience hair loss instead of excessive hair growth, finding that they have male-pattern hair thinning. The cause of the hair changes is attributed to the high androgen levels that can stimulate hair follicles.
Obstructive sleep apnea is also common in women with PCOS. Other common conditions are mood disorders, like anxiety and depression, and eating disorders.
By Ava Mallory