Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

It is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work.
The three main features are:
  • irregular periods – which means your ovaries don't regularly release eggs (ovulation) 
  • excess androgen – high levels of "male hormones" in your body, which may cause physical signs. 
  • polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) which surround the eggs (it's important to note that, despite the name, if you have PCOS you don't actually have cysts)
Ovaries of those with the syndrome contain a large number of harmless follicles that are up to 8mm usually. The follicles are under-developed sacs in which eggs develop. In PCOS, these sacs are often unable to release an egg, which means that ovulation doesn't take place. It is very common, estimated to affect about one in every five women in the UK although about half of these may not have symptoms. However, it is associated with an increased risk of developing health problems in later life, such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels.


The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it often runs in families. It is related to abnormal hormone levels in the body including Insulin. PCOS women are resistant to the action of insulin in their body and produce higher levels of insulin to overcome this, which contributes to the increased production and activity of hormones such as testosterone. 


There is no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be treated in many ways from medication to physical changes. If you're overweight, losing weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet can make some symptoms better. Medications are also available to treat symptoms. Metformin is regularly prescribed to control blood sugar levels to those with PCOS as some studies have shown it does help. Birth control is also offered in the hope it can regulate periods or stop painful periods. 


This does not mean you will suffer from every single one, in fact, half of the people with PCOS don't even have symptoms. These are just the main reported issues people suffer from. These symptoms usually start around puberty. 

Most common
  • Irregular periods or no periods at all 
  • Irregular ovulation, or no ovulation at all 
  • Difficulty getting pregnant and female infertility 
  • Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks 
  • Weight gain 
  • Difficulty losing weight 
  • Thinning hair and hair loss from the head 
  • Oily skin or acne 
  • Mental health issues such as depression 
  • Mood swings 
Less Common 
  • Patches of skin on the neck, arms, breasts, or thighs that are thick and dark brown or black 
  • Skin tags — excess flaps of skin in the armpits or neck area 
  • Pelvic pain 

Later in life 
  • type 2 diabetes – a lifelong condition that causes a person's blood sugar level to become too high 
  • high blood pressure and high cholesterol – which can lead to heart disease and stroke 
  • sleep apnoea – overweight women may also develop sleep apnoea, a condition that causes interrupted breathing during sleep 
  • Women with absent or very irregular periods for many years have a higher-than-average risk of developing cancer of the womb lining.


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