February 4, 2010
Healthcare Just for Women
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a disorder characterized by laboratory and/or clinical findings of higher levels of androgens (male sex hormones), difficulty with ovulating and menstrual irregularity, and polycystic appearance to ovaries on ultrasound. Its prevalence is nearly 10 percent among reproductive-age women and may represent the largest underappreciated segment of the female population at risk for cardiovascular disease.
What are some of the symptoms of PCOS?
Most women suffering from PCOS present with one or more of the following symptoms or characteristics: irregular periods, excessive facial hair, alopecia (loss of hair), high levels of androgens or specific hormones on lab testing, and obesity, although as many as 20 percent of women with PCOS are not obese. Many women also present with a variety of menstrual related complaints, from not having a period for years to heavy menstrual bleeding. Infertility is also a common finding among PCOS sufferers and the diagnosis is often made during an infertility evaluation.
What causes PCOS?
The genetic contribution to PCOS remains uncertain and there are no environmental causes identified. Insulin resistance, where insulin levels are high, might be causative and contribute to symptoms. Obesity might be both a cause as well as a complicating factor with PCOS, further contributing to the signs and symptoms of the disorder. However, there is no known genetic testing available for PCOS and it is unknown whether the condition may itself be inherited.