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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): symptoms, fertility, and health risks

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is an especially common cause of infertility in women; find out what it is and what you can do.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), sometimes referred to as a polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a condition that disrupts the functions of a woman’s ovary. It is one of the common reasons for infertility in women in the UK and around the world.

A Woman with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Curled Up in Bed

What are the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome?

The symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome vary from woman to woman. Some women with the condition may not even experience symptoms, while others may only have menstrual problems.

The symptoms can range from mild to severe. The following are the more common symptoms of women with PCOS:

  • Irregular menstruation (sometimes, no periods at all)
  • Heavy bleeding (when periods do occur)
  • Hirsutism (excessive hair growth)
  • Involuntary weight gain
  • Acne or oily skin
  • Hair loss or thinning from the head

Some women may also find that their skins have darkened, especially in the creases on the neck, around the groin, and under the breasts. Forming skin tags is also common; these are small flaps of excess skin under the armpits and on the neck area.

How does PCOS affect fertility in women?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is one of the most common reasons for infertility in women. Most women with PCOS are diagnosed when they attempt to conceive and begin facing difficulties.

Due to the impact PCOS has on a woman’s menstrual cycle, eggs fail to grow properly in the ovary, and ultimately no eggs are released during ovulation. If a woman is not ovulating or their ovaries are unable to grow the eggs properly, they cannot get pregnant.

Up to 80% of women suffering from PCOS experience difficulties getting pregnant. As widespread as the infertility issues caused by PCOS are, the condition is easily treatable too once you have been diagnosed. Check this NHS page for a list of possible treatments.

Get yourself checked out for polycystic ovary syndrome as soon as convenient. Click the button below to book a test with VIVO Clinic:

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What are the other health risks caused by PCOS?

Other than fertility issues, having polycystic ovary syndrome can lead you to develop various health problems later in life. If you are suffering from PCOS, your chances of developing the conditions listed below are increased.

  • Type 2 diabetes
    More than 50% of women with PCOS end up developing type 2 diabetes by the age of 40 years.
  • High blood pressure
    Women who have PCOS are more at risk of high blood pressure than women of the same age who do not have PCOS.
  • High cholesterol
    Women with polycystic ovary syndrome often have high cholesterol levels. Both high cholesterol and high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
  • Depression
    Depression, mood swings, and anxiety can all be attributed to the hormonal changes you will experience when you have PCOS.
  • Sleep apnoea
    The sleeping disorder is responsible for recurrent pauses in breathing, leading to sleep interruptions. Sleep apnoea is more common in women with PCOS who may be overweight.
  • Endometrial cancer
    Irregular and frequently missed periods can result in the uterine lining thickening, and this increases the risk of developing endometrial cancer. Even then, the risk is small and that too can still be minimised further by treating the irregular periods.

Bad Sleep

Who can get polycystic ovary syndrome?

Any woman of childbearing age, regardless of ethnicity or race, can be afflicted with PCOS. At least 1 in 10 women during their childbearing years are affected by the health condition.

According to this study published in 2015, around 2.2% to 26.7% of women aged between 15 and 44 years have PCOS. While most women are diagnosed with the condition when they try to conceive, women can get PCOS at any time after they have undergone puberty.

What causes PCOS, and how is it diagnosed?

The exact cause of polycystic ovary syndrome is still unknown. The common belief by medical experts is that any or all of the following may play a role in women getting PCOS:

  • Genes
  • Resistance to insulin
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Inflammation

Genetics is assumed to be a cause as PCOS tends to run in families. Women with PCOS also tend to have high insulin levels, which leads the ovaries to up the production of testosterone preventing ovulation and interfering with the menstruation cycle. Other than increased testosterone levels, women with PCOS also have an imbalance in other hormones, like luteinising hormones, prolactin, and sex hormone-binding globulin. The exact reason for this hormonal imbalance is unknown.

You can be diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome if a Blood Test for PCOS indicates hormonal imbalance and if you have been experiencing irregular periods.

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