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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): An Overview

Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS vector illustration. Labeled internal reproductive disease comparison scheme with healthy and sick female organs. Set of anatomical symptoms due to elevated androgens

Introduction

PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) is a hormonal disorder that affects female patients of reproductive age.

Women with PCOS may have higher-than-average male hormone (androgen) levels. This hormonal imbalance can also cause patients to have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods. These irregular menstrual cycles can make it harder for patients to conceive. Additionally, the ovaries may grow multiple tiny aggregations of liquid (follicles) and fail to routinely release eggs.

PCOS can also cause patients to go bald or have irregular hair growth on their face and body. PCOS can also contribute to long-term health problems like type two diabetes and heart disease.

Lifestyle changes and medications can help balance the hormones and improve the patient’s symptoms.

Today we will look at what PCOS is and how common it is in patients.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects 2.2 – 26.7% of women, between the ages of 15 and 44, during their childbearing years.

Many patients with PCOS don’t know they have it. In one study, up to 70% of women with PCOS were undiagnosed.

PCOS impacts the ovaries, the reproductive organs which produce estrogen and progesterone — the hormones that regulate menstruation. Additionally, the ovaries produce a small number of androgens or male hormones.

The ovaries typically release an egg each month during ovulation. If the egg is fertilized by sperm, it becomes a fetus.

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) also regulate ovulation. The FSH stimulates the ovary to create a follicle, a sac that includes an egg, and then LH triggers the ovary to release an ovum (mature egg.)

PCOS is a syndrome (or group of symptoms) that impacts the ovaries and ovulation. The most prevalent PCOS symptoms are:

● ovarian cysts

● irregular or missed periods

● high levels of androgen (male hormones)

In PCOS, several tiny, fluid-filled sacs develop within the ovaries. The “P” in “PCOS” stands for “polycystic” which literally means “many cysts.”

These sacs are actually follicles, all containing an immature egg. These eggs never mature sufficiently to activate ovulation.

This absence of ovulation imbalances the patient’s hormones including; estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH. Estrogen and progesterone levels decrease, while androgen levels increase.

Elevated levels of androgen disrupt the menstrual cycle and this is why PCOS patients typically have fewer periods.

PCOS was first identified in 1721 by Italian physician Antonio Vallisneri.

SUMMARY

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects up to 26.7% of women during their fertile years. Symptoms can include ovarian cysts, high levels of androgen (male hormones), and abnormal periods.

Come back next week for part two where we will be discussing the causes and symptoms of PCOS.

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