Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a leading cause of infertility in women. Although common, it is one of the most under-diagnosed diseases in the United States. Most women with PCOS are unaware that they have the disease, as symptoms often seem unrelated. Women with PCOS may be at higher risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and endometrial cancer if PCOS is left untreated. It is thought to be a genetic trait, and environmental factors such as one’s diet are thought to play a role in its development.
Three characteristic symptoms are associated with PCOS. Women are diagnosed when they have at least two of these three symptoms:
- Irregular periods
- Excess androgens, either measured in the blood or seen through symptoms like acne or excess hair growth
- Polycystic ovaries, seen on an ultrasound
Women with PCOS may have irregular periods, have only 6 to 8 periods per year, have it for a few months and then skip a month or two, or go many months without having a period. When women with PCOS become pregnant, they have an increased rate of miscarriage. Many women with PCOS will have issues with infertility.
Acne or oily skin on the face is another common symptom of PCOS, but may also be found on the back or chest due to higher levels of testosterone in the bloodstream. The higher levels of testosterone in women with PCOS can also cause excess facial hair on the upper lip or chin or excess hair growth on the chest and abdomen. Hormone imbalances can cause hair thinning at the front of the scalp.
The third symptom of PCOS, polycystic ovaries, can be seen on a transvaginal ultrasound. The ovaries are full of ovarian follicles that each contain an egg. However, the ovaries of women with PCOS may contain small follicles that do not ovulate to an egg each month due to the hormonal imbalances in PCOS. Women with PCOS may have difficulty getting pregnant because the ovaries do not grow and ovulate an egg each month.
Obesity is a common occurrence in women with PCOS, as up to 50-60% of women with PCOS are obese. The hormonal imbalances may cause women with PCOS to be more likely to gain weight, and the symptoms mentioned previously can be made worse by obesity. All women with PCOS should be screened for insulin resistance as they are at greater risk of developing diabetes.
The North Carolina Center for Reproductive Medicine/Talbert Fertility Institute is the premiere center for reproductive health in North Carolina and the East Coast. Our team specializes in fertility testing, diagnosis, and treatment of infertility conditions. We’re experts in IVF, Tubal Ligation Reversal, Male Infertility, Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), Gestation Surrogacy, Family Balancing, and more. Contact us today.