PCOS: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is characterized by the excessive production of androgen hormones by the ovaries that affects 5% to 10% of women of childbearing age. Androgens refer to male sex hormones such as testosterone, DHT & DHEA. When androgens are in excess as in PCOS, follicles in the ovaries that usually develop and release an egg each cycle, fail to develop completely and instead become fluid-filled sacs that build up in the ovaries, causing them to enlarge. The three most common features of PCOS that are used to diagnose the condition are:
- Oligomenorrhea or oligo-ovulation; irregular, infrequent periods (over 35 days between periods may be considered an infrequent period)
- Excess hair growth over the body, particularly on the face OR high levels of androgens
- Cysts on the ovaries
PCOS is commonly associated with weight gain, high blood sugar and insulin resistance, acne, infertility, depression, the thickening and darkening of skin in folds (armpits, neck, groin), and absent or abnormally heavy periods. It is not uncommon for multiple women of an extended family to be affected.
The prognosis for this condition is very good with treatment, which is important to prevent complications such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease and may restore fertility in some women.