It is unknown what exactly causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women with PCOS have higher androgen levels than those without PCOS, which has an important role in causing the disease. PCOS typically affects women in their reproductive years (aged between 15 and 44 years). The condition, however, can affect a woman at any age after puberty. PCOS can affect women of all races and ethnic backgrounds.
Certain factors may increase the risk of PCOS:
- Being overweight or obese: Being overweight is a risk factor for PCOS, although the condition is seen in many women with normal weight. Furthermore, many overweight women do not have PCOS. Being overweight also increases the risk of insulin resistance, a condition in which the body does not respond normally to the insulin hormone. Insulin keeps the blood sugar levels under check.
- Family history of PCOS: The risk of PCOS may be higher in women who have a mother, a sister, or an aunt with PCOS.
- Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance is a condition in which the cells in the muscles, fat, and liver do not respond well to insulin and cannot easily take up glucose from the blood. Being overweight because of an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity can lead to insulin resistance. The condition often runs in families. Losing weight, consuming a healthy diet, and exercising regularly can help improve symptoms regardless of what caused the insulin resistance.
What is polycystic ovary syndrome?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a medical condition that causes imbalances in the reproductive hormones in women.
Ovaries are almond-shaped organs that are part of the reproductive system in women. They make an egg that is released every month during the menstrual cycle. Hormonal imbalance in PCOS affects the ovaries. Thus, in PCOS, the egg may not develop or may not be released normally.PCOS is a common condition affecting 1 in 10 women. It is also one of the most common causes of infertility in women, affecting around five million women in the United States. Women with PCOS may have irregular periods, infertility, acne, thinning of hair, and weight gain. Lack of ovulation and irregular periods affect the ability to conceive and cause the development of small fluid-filled sacs (cysts) in the ovaries.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) often develop the following symptoms:
- Irregular periods or absence of periods
- Hirsutism (excess hair on face and body)
- Thinning of scalp hair
- Difficulty in conceiving or inability to conceive
- Weight gain or difficulty in losing weight
- Darkening of the skin, especially along the neck creases, in the groin, and under the breasts
- Skin tags (small excess flaps of skin in the armpits or neck area)
Can PCOS be cured?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) cannot be cured. It is a lifelong condition that extends even beyond the reproductive years. A combination of lifestyle modifications and medicines may help to manage the hormonal imbalance and symptoms in women with PCOS. If you have PCOS, you must consult your doctor to manage the disease through a healthy diet, physical activity, weight loss (if you are overweight), and medications.
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