Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition that can cause you to have irregular periods, get oily skin and pimples, and grow extra facial hair. The condition can also make it hard to get pregnant by preventing you from ovulating. People sometimes refer to polycystic ovary syndrome as “PCOS).” It is very common; about 5 percent of all women have PCOS.
What causes polycystic ovary syndrome?
About once a month, the ovaries should make a structure called a follicle. As the follicle grows, it makes hormones and releases an egg, and this is called “ovulation.” In women with PCOS, the ovaries don’t work very well, and the follicle often does not develop. Instead, the ovary makes many small follicles instead of one big one, and hormone levels can get out of balance. This can prevent ovulation from occurring, which makes it difficult to become pregnant. The hormone imbalances are what leads to the excessive facial hair.
What are the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome?
Women with PCOS can have all or some of the following symptoms:
- Fewer than 8 periods a year
- Weight gain
- Growth of thick dark hair in a male pattern, such as on the top lip, chin, sideburns, chest and belly
- Male pattern balding
- Oily skin, pimples or acne
- Difficulty becoming pregnant
Should I see a doctor?
If you have symptoms of PCOS, it is important to see a doctor. PCOS symptoms are treatable, plus women with PCOS are more likely to end up with other health problems, such as:
- Endometrial hyperplasia, a pre-cancerous thickening of the uterus’ lining
- High cholesterol
- Sleep apnoea
What tests need to be done?
Tests required for women with PCOS include:
- Blood tests to measure hormone levels
- Sugar and cholesterol tests
- Pregnancy test
- Ultrasound of the uterus and ovaries
How is polycystic ovary syndrome treated?
The treatment of PCOS mainly depends on whether you want to become pregnant now or later. For women who want to become pregnant later, the combined oral contraceptive pill is the most common treatment. The pill reduces the hormonal symptoms such as excessive hairiness, and regulates the menstrual cycle. Other treatments are available if using the pill doesn’t suit you. Women who want to become pregnant now can’t go on the pill. These women need “ovulation induction” therapy. Women who don’t become pregnant while taking oral medications can then either try fertility injections (FSH ovulation induction), ovarian drilling or IVF. A consultation with a fertility specialist is necessary to understand the pros and cons of these options. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can improve many of your symptoms. Losing just 5 percent of your body weight can help a lot to treat the symptoms (hairiness) and make you ovulate, therefore helping you become pregnant.
The information on this page is general in nature. All medical and surgical procedures have potential benefits and risks. Consult a healthcare professional for medical advice specific to you.