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What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome

Aka PCOS, is a complex hormonal condition. ‘Polycystic’ literally translates as ‘many cysts’. This refers to the many partially formed follicles on the ovaries, which each contain an egg. These rarely grow to maturity or produce eggs that can be fertilised.

Women with PCOS commonly have high levels of insulin that don’t work effectively or male hormones known as 'androgens', or both. The cause is not fully understood, however family history and genetics, hormones and lifestyle play a role. Insulin resistance is present in up to four out of five women with PCOS. 

PCOS is relatively common, especially in infertile women. It affects 8 to 13 percent of women of reproductive age (between late adolescence and menopause). Almost 70 per cent of these cases remain undiagnosed.

Up to a third of women may have polycystic ovaries seen on an ultrasound but they don’t all have PCOS. To be diagnosed with PCOS, women need to have two out of three of the following: 

  1. Irregular or absent periods.

  2. Acne, excess facial or body hair growth, scalp hair loss or high levels of androgens (testosterone and similar hormones) in the blood.

  3. Polycystic ovaries (many small cysts on the ovaries) visible on an ultrasound.

Symptoms of PCOS -

Women who have PCOS may experience:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles – periods may be less or more frequent due to less frequent ovulation (release of an egg).

  • Amenorrhoea (no periods) – some women with PCOS do not menstruate, in some cases for many years.

  • Excessive facial or body hair growth (or both). 

  • Acne.

  • Infertility (difficulty in becoming pregnant) – related to less frequent or absent ovulation.

  • Mood changes – including anxiety and depression.

  • Obesity - not all women who have PCOS will be obese, you can be thin & have PCOS.

  • Sleep apnoea.

*Note: You don’t have to have all of the above symptoms to be diagnosed with PCOS. You only need a few. 🌻



Written by @the.pcos.journal

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