What causes PCOS & how is it diagnosed?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a disorder in which the ovaries produce excessive amounts of male hormones and develop small cysts.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is causes by hormonal imbalances that prevent ovulation. Your body produces too much of some hormones and not enough of others. Women who are diagnoses with PCOS usually have low levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), yet have high levels of luteinizing hormone (LH). FHS is the hormone that’s responsible for stimulating the growth of follicles in the ovaries that contain maturing eggs. If you lack FSH for a long time, your follicles will not mature and release their eggs, resulting in infertility. Instead, the immature follicles in your ovaries develop into small cysts.
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High levels of LH cause your body to produce too much estrogen and androgens (male hormones) – testosterone and DHEAS (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate). High levels of estrogen can cause the endometrial tissue in your uterus to get very thick, which can lead to heavy and/or irregular periods. If your androgen levels are high for a long time, you may develop acne and/or hair on your face, and you may experience hair loss.

HOW PCOS IS DIAGNOSED:

Your medial history and a pelvic exam are necessary to diagnosing PCOS. However, other tests are need to confirm diagnosis. You may need one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood hormone levels – blood test that reveal the levels of certain hormones in your blood, such as FSH, LH, estrogen (estradiol), and androgens (testosterone and DHEAS).
  • Ultrasound – a scan that uses high-frequency sound waves to identify the many small cysts in the ovaries
  • Endometrial biopsy – a procedure in which a sample of your endometrial tissue is examined to help explain why your periods are irregular

SOME COMMON SYMPTOMS OF PCOS ARE:

You may have heavy, irregular periods, or you may stop menstruating entirely. You probably won’t be able to tell if you are ovulating until your doctor does a few tests. Other symptoms include acne, excessive hair growth on the face, obesity, and infertility.

WHAT CAUSES THIS DISEASE?

The cause of this disorder is unknown; however, heredity plays a significant role.

ARE THERE TREATMENT OPTIONS AVAILABLE?

Your treatment will depend on your specific needs. Obesity may make the condition worse, so losing weigh may help improve the hormone imbalance. If your goal is to become pregnant, then your doctor may prescribe a medication to stimulate ovulation. Other medications such as hormones, oral contraceptives, and insulin-sensitizing medications (metformin) can improve irregular or heavy periods and other symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment can reduce the development of acne and facial hair.

WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH PCOS?

Long-term exposure to high levels of estrogen (and not enough progesterone) can lead to an increased risk of uterine cancer. Treatments such as birth control pills are available to reduce the risk. Women who have PCOS may also be at increased risk for diabetes.

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For more resources about PCOS, visit PCOS Awareness Association.

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