Polycystic ovary syndrome (also called PCOS, Stein Leventhal syndrome, polycystic ovary disease or POD) is the most common hormonal and reproductive problem affecting women of childbearing age. It’s estimated that between 5 and 10 percent of women in the United States have PCOS.
PCOS has been defined as the presence of any two of the following characteristics:
- Lack of ovulation for an extended period of time
- High levels of androgens (male hormones)
- Many small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) on the ovaries
Researchers don’t yet know the exact cause of PCOS, but they know it runs in families. The condition raises the risk for long-term problems like diabetes and heart disease. PCOS can lead to infertility.
PCOS symptoms are related to hormonal imbalance, lack of ovulation and insulin resistance and may include:
- Irregular, infrequent or absent menstrual periods
- Hirsutism (excessive growth of body and facial hair, including the chest, stomach and back)
- Acne or oily skin
- Overweight or obesity, especially around the waist (central obesity) and abdomen
- Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
- Skin tags (small pieces of skin on the neck or armpits)
- Acanthosis nigricans (darkened skin areas on the back of the neck, in the armpits and under the breasts)
Diagnosis and next steps
LVHN gynecologists and endocrinologists (hormone disorders specialists) are key resources for women with PCOS. Diagnosis is important even after menopause, because while symptoms may ease, underlying insulin problems remain.
Laboratory tests (blood tests), along with a pelvic exam and transvaginal ultrasound will help diagnose PCOS.
Treatment may involve medication, hormonal birth control (such as oral contraceptives, patch, vaginal ring, hormone intrauterine device) and weight loss.