Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a set of symptoms that occurs when you don’t ovulate regularly due to high androgens (hormones responsible for male-type characteristics). It is normal for women to have some androgens, which are necessary for oestrogen production, libido and keeping bones strong. However, during PCOS, excess amounts of androgens result in undesirable symptoms such as acne, male-pattern hair growth (hirsutism) and scalp hair loss. They also interfere with ovulation, making the menstrual cycle irregular and causing difficulty with fertility.
If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS you may have an image in your head that your ovaries are being attacked by cysts. They are not. The cystic appearance of ovaries during PCOS is caused by many tiny eggs trying to develop at the same time, instead of just one. The hormonal feedback loop needed for ovulation malfunctions and none of the developing eggs reach the maturity needed to be released. As a result you may not get your period for long stretches of time or you may have an irregular cycle.
Symptoms of PCOS
Other than irregular or infrequent periods, the major signs and symptoms of PCOS include:
- Hirsutism: male-pattern hair growth, particularly on the belly, chin, upper lip, chest, back upper arms & inner thighs
- Hair loss: thinning hair or male-pattern scalp hair loss
- Anxiety and stress
- Sugar cravings
- Difficulty losing weight
- Skin pigmentation (acanthosis nigricans): areas of thicker, darker skin with a velvety texture that tend to occur in body folds such as the neck and groin.
- Trouble conceiving
- Severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Symptoms and severity vary from person to person and you may not have all of the symptoms mentioned above.
Long term risks
The poor blood sugar control that goes hand in hand with PCOS can have consequences if left untreated. Women with PCOS have greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Women with PCOS who experience infrequent periods (<6-8 per year) have an increased risk of endometrial cancer.
Women with PCOS have an increased risk of high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes during pregnancy and should be screened for these frequently in pregnancy.
What do I do now?
Use this section to gain a thorough understanding of PCOS and check out all the research. This section contains all the basic information but we also have a PCOS book complete with an evidence-based treatment plan if you want to go further into understanding and treating this syndrome.
Hirsutism is excess hair growth in a male pattern, in women, typically due to excess androgens.
Androgen excess is typically associated with PCOS, but can be due to other conditions of the ovaries, adrenals or pituitary gland.
We take a closer look at how androgens impact the female body and how they work.
A woman is struggling to understand her stress-related PCOS symptoms.
Sometime the excess androgens involved in PCOS are produced by the adrenal glands, not the ovaries. Find out how to deal with adrenal-androgen excess here.
Sometimes PCOS can be caused or exacerbated by stress. When we are very stressed and have a lot going on PCOS can get complex and it is hard to know where to start.
Thyroid problems and PCOS can both interfere with ovulation, causing infertility. How can you tell which you have?
Insulin resistance is where the cells of your body become resistant to the effects of the hormone insulin.
We explain what is really behind acne and how to fix it.
Polycystic ovaries are ovaries with many cyst-like structures on them, though whether they are true cysts or not will depend on investigations.
Learning that you have PCOS and may have difficulty conceiving can be a shock and difficult to deal with. Luckily, medical help is not the only way to fall pregnant and your ovaries can return to normal function. We explain.
We discuss Rhodiola as a treatment for stress and PCOS
Research: myo-inositol with folic acid improves hirsutism, acne and irregular periods in women with PCOS
A short review of two different research studies showing the benefits of myo-inositol with folic acid for PCOS.
We explain how laser hair removal works if you have unwanted hair caused by hirsutism.
Fixing PCOS – truly fixing it – is a combination effort. We explain.
We explain PCOS in a bit more detail.
How to tell if you have PCOS
Your questions answered about how the pill works and its side-effects.
Don’t want to take the pill? Weigh up the pros and cons of the alternatives here…
Not sure what is in your contraceptive? Find out here.
Not sure what to eat? Print this handy chart and keep it nearby.
What to look at when periods don’t arrive on time.
A list of possible causes why your period has stopped.