Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder in which a woman's body produces abnormally high levels of the male hormone, called androgens. These high levels of androgens prevent the ovaries from producing enough progesterone, which is necessary for a normal menstrual cycle. This results in undeveloped egg follicles, which turn into small cysts in the ovaries that prevent ovulation.
PCOS affects approximately five to ten percent of women of childbearing age and is a leading cause of infertility. The condition is also the most common hormonal disorder among pre-menopausal women. Women of all ethnicities may be affected.
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. However, research suggests that genetics may play a part, since women who have female relatives with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing the syndrome. Obesity, diabetes, being insulin resistant and having problems with the adrenal, thyroid or pituitary glands may also contribute to PCOS.
Symptoms develop within a few years of puberty, though sometimes they appear later in life. Symptoms may worsen during a woman's prime reproductive years — between the ages of 20 and 40 — particularly in women who gain a significant amount of weight.
Symptoms of PCOS vary for each woman. However, common symptoms may include:
PCOS may also be associated with depression, difficulty getting pregnant, predisposition to type II diabetes and other long-term health problems.
Currently, there is no cure for PCOS. Medical treatment of PCOS varies by the patient and their goals. The condition can be managed by treating symptoms with medications and by adapting a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle.