Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a disorder in women that stems from an abnormal ovary function and an imbalance in the levels of reproductive hormones. PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in women. Briefed below are the causes, signs and treatment of PCOS and its relation to pregnancy.

Last Updated: 22 October 2020

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a set of symptoms which interfere with the healthy functioning of the ovaries.

In a normal menstrual cycle, one egg is matured from one of the ovaries and released into the fallopian tube in a process called ovulation. When a sperm interacts with the egg, conception happens. If there is no sperm to fertilize the egg, the egg will pass down to the uterus to rupture away at the end of the cycle, leading to menstruation or period.

In PCOS condition, the egg follicles inside the ovaries fail to mature and thus do not release an ovum.

Healthy ovaries produce female sex hormones, namely, estrogen and progesterone and also small amounts of a male sex hormone called as androgen.

When the follicles in the ovaries do not mature adequately to release an egg, they become cysts. The formation of many such cysts results in a polycystic ovary. A polycystic ovary does not produce the right amounts of estrogen and progesterone and specifically produces higher amounts of androgen, causing hormonal imbalance in the body.

What causes PCOS?

What exactly causes polycystic ovary syndrome is not known but it may be linked to the following factors:

·         Family genetics

·         Insulin resistance

·         Lifestyle factors like excess weight gain, lack of exercise and low BMI

What are the signs of PCOS?

The common signs of PCOS are:

·         The absence of ovulation may lead to:

o   Irregular periods, that is, the number of days between menstrual cycles is not consistent

o   Not having periods at all for many consecutive months

·         Not getting pregnant in spite of repeated attempts.

·         Heavy bleeding when periods occur after a long gap.

·         The high levels of androgen give rise to secondary male sexual characteristics like growth of hair on the face and chest.

·         The altered levels of estrogen and progesterone affect the thickness and firmness of hair on the head making hair fall more frequently.

·         Prominence of facial acne.

·         Unexplained weight gain.

How is PCOS diagnosed?

When you visit the doctor for issues in getting pregnant or with other signs of PCOS, your doctor will ask you questions to decide on the tests required further. PCOS is diagnosed by the following examinations:

·         A blood test for male sex hormones: Higher levels than normal indicate PCOS.

·         An ultrasound scan: The physical presence of poly cysts in the ovaries confirms PCOS.

How is pregnancy connected to polycystic ovary syndrome?

If you have polycystic ovary syndrome during your childbearing ages, you may find it difficult to become pregnant. In order to conceive, an egg must be released from the ovary during the cycle. In PCOS, since the ovary fails to release an egg, conception cannot happen.

How is PCOS treated?

As the first step to treat PCOS, you will be advised to work on lifestyle factors like reducing weight by dieting and exercise.

If you have PCOS and you are trying to get pregnant, you may be advised for one or both of the following medications:

·         Clomiphene or Clomid tablets are prescribed to induce ovulation.

·         Metformin helps in correcting insulin resistance.

 

Most women with polycystic ovary syndrome will be able to conceive with fertility drugs. When fertility medications do not have an effect, the possibilities of getting pregnant through in vitro fertilization (IVF) will be discussed.

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