What causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
Researchers and health care providers are aware that there are both environmental and genetic factors that contribute to the development of PCOS, but they do not know exactly what causes the disease.
Since the symptoms of PCOS tend to be hereditary, it is likely that the syndrome is due, at least in part, to a change or mutation in one or more genes. Recent research in animal models suggests that, in some cases, PCOS may be due to genetic or chemical changes that occur in the womb.
What are the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
Coupled with the 3 features (lack of ovulation, excessive levels of both androgens, and ovarian cysts) used to diagnose or confirm PCOS, there are several signs and symptoms of PCOS, some of which may seem unrelated to the disease:
- Menstrual irregularities:
- Total absence of menstrual periods, called amenorrhea
- Lack of frequent menstrual periods, called oligomenorrhea
- Heavy, painful periods
- Bleeding without ovulation, called anovulatory periods
- Excess growth of hair on the face, chest, abdomen or thighs-a condition called hirsutism
- Severe acne, late or persistent onset that does not respond well to usual treatments
- Excessive weight gain or inability to shed fat easily, most especially around the waist region.
- Pelvic pain
- Oily skin
- Dark patches of skin, which usually has a thick velvety texture (acanthosis nigricans)
- Hair loss (androgenic alopecia)
PCOS is a manageable – but not curable – chronic endocrinological disease.
PCOS is the highest single cause of female infertility in the western world. Although PCOS is one of the main causes of infertility, many women with PCOS can become – and remain – pregnant. Pregnant women with PCOS, however, are at higher risk of having certain problems with conception, such as miscarriage.
Since many women may be embarrassed about having hair loss, oily skin, excessive body hair growth, or acne, they may not mention these things to their doctors. As a result, many women are not diagnosed with PCOS until they have difficulty becoming pregnant. This is the biggest reason why women of child-bearing age – 18 to 45 – are the most likely to become first diagnosed with the disorder. However, women who have PCOS will continue to have it their entire lives, even after menopause or a hysterectomy. Mounting scientific evidence also suggests that this illness is something women may be born with, though symptoms may not appear until shortly after the onset of puberty. The first obvious symptoms in young girls are typically uncontrollable weight gain and period irregularity.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment: How to Diagnose PCOS
This article contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not medical advice and should not be used to replace the advice of a trained physician. If you have any suspicion that the information in this article may apply to you, be sure to contact your doctor for more details!
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