Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is an extremely common endocrine disorder that is thought to affect up to 10-15% of reproductive age women.  The diagnosis of PCOS can be challenging for various reasons and women really benefit from an evaluation by an endocrinologist focused in this field.  Generally speaking, PCOS is a problem of overproduction or hypersensitivity to androgens, testosterone being the most common androgen that most people have heard of.  The extra testosterone can cause problems with ovulation and this can result in abnormal periods.  The extra testosterone can also affect the skin and hair follicles and this sometimes results in acne, extra hair growth (hirsutism) and/or hair thinning on the scalp (alopecia).

Another hormone abnormality in PCOS involves insulin.  Extra insulin in women with PCOS likely leads to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes over time.  In addition, insulin is a hormone that interacts with the ovary itself and causes the ovary to overproduce testosterone so there is a “vicious cycle” at play in PCOS as well.  Body weight can also play an important role in worsening the symptoms of PCOS.  For all of these reasons, it is very important for women with PCOS to have a thorough evaluation of their risk of diabetes and to get help early on for weight loss.

Symptoms of PCOS change over time and over the course of a women’s reproductive life.  PCOS is not an infertility diagnosis.  However, some women with PCOS ovulate intermittently and some women with PCOS ovulate infrequently or not at all.  Therefore, in some women with PCOS there is a delay in getting pregnant due to the ovulation problem.  Women with PCOS who are actively trying to get pregnant should be evaluated by an endocrinologist early to find out if they are ovulating normally or if they need medications to help them ovulate.

For more information:

PCOS

Androgen Excess Society Patient Information for PCOS

PCOS Support Groups:

PCOS Challenge

PCOS Foundation

PCOS Diva