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PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a condition that affects 1 in 10 women and has nothing to do with having cysts, despite the name! Although many people know very little about Polycystic Ovaries, they are actually very common, affecting an estimated 1 in every 5 women in the UK.

It refers to when your ovaries are enlarged because they contain a large number of harmless fluid-filled sacs called follicles that are up to 8mm in size. Usually, eggs develop in these follicles, but in the case of PCOS they are often unable to release an egg meaning ovulation cannot take place.

People with PCOS have polycystic ovaries coupled with other symptoms such as irregular periods due to the fact that their ovaries don’t regularly release eggs. Another feature of PCOS is excess androgen, this means high levels of “male” hormones, like testosterone are present in the body. This can sometimes cause excess hair growth on your face or body.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

The symptoms of PCOS usually become apparent during your late teens or early 20s. However, more than half of women with PCOS do not have any symptoms at all !

PCOS symptoms are extremely varied, and no experience is the same. They include having irregular periods, or no periods at all, and finding it difficult to get pregnant as a result of irregular ovulation, or failure to ovulate. As mentioned, excess androgen hormones can cause excessive hair growth (also known as hirsutism) on areas like the face, chest, back or bum. 

Some women experience weight gain, thinning hair and hair loss from the head, oily skin or acne which can impact their self-esteem and mental health. There are also some long-term effects of PCOS, such as an increased risk of developing certain health problems like high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

What causes polycystic ovaries?

The exact cause of polycystic ovaries is unknown, although it often runs in families. It is related to abnormal hormone levels in the body, in particular high levels of the hormone insulin which is released from the pancreas to control sugar levels in your body. 

People with PCOS may be resistant to insulin in the body, so their bodies produce higher levels of insulin to compensate. This contributes to the body producing increased amounts of other hormones such as testosterone.

How do you treat PCOS?

Sadly, there is currently no cure for PCOS, although the symptoms can be treated.

There are medications available to treat symptoms such as excessive hair growth, irregular periods and fertility problems. In cases where this doesn’t work, a procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) is available to destroy the tissue that produces androgens. There’s also the option of lifestyle changes to ease symptoms – losing weight and eating more healthily can help. With treatment, most women with PCOS are able to get pregnant.

Medical disclaimer

The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.

Sources:

  1.   https://www.verity-pcos.org.uk/what-is-pcos.html
  2.   https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/
  3.   https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/

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