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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – PCOS

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is associated with period problems, acne or increased hair growth due to excess male-type hormones, infertility, and increased risk for diabetes.

Infrequent, irregular, or absent periods are all common variations in period problems. When bleeding does occur, it is often heavy. This absence of regular bleeding intervals is due to infrequent or absent ovulation. Absent or infrequent ovulation contributes to the problem of infertility many of these women experience. Infrequent or irregular periods over a long time lead to an increased risk of cancer of the lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer).

Women with PCOS have higher than normal levels of androgens, or male hormones. This may result in excess hair growth especially on the face, chest, or abdomen. Excess male hormones can also contribute to acne and male-pattern hair loss.

Researchers have identified a strong correlation between PCOS and insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone released from the pancreas after a meal. It allows the cells of the body to take up energy in the form of glucose. “Insulin resistance” results in excessively high levels of insulin as the pancreas tries to compensate. High levels of insulin prevent ovulation and cause a rise in male hormone levels. Women with insulin resistance have a high risk of developing type II diabetes.

Obesity, or excessive weight, worsens the symptoms for those with PCOS. Weight loss can improve the symptoms but may be difficult due to the hormone changes of PCOS.

Oral contraceptive pills will regulate the menstrual cycle, decrease levels of male hormones, and decrease the risk of endometrial cancer in women with PCOS. Cyclic progestins can also decrease the risk of endometrial cancer. Metformin, a drug used to treat type II diabetes has been shown to improve ovulation in women with PCOS and insulin resistance. Sensitivity to insulin can also be improved with weight loss, diet and exercise.