Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work. It is both an environmental and a hormonal disorder.
The 3 main features of PCOS are:
- Polycystic ovaries. Your ovaries become enlarged and contain fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs. However, the name is a misnomer. You do not actually have cysts if you have PCOS.
- Irregular periods. This means that your ovaries do not ovulate on a regular basis, which can make cycles erratic.
- Excess androgen. You have high levels of “male” hormones in your body, which may result in excess facial or body hair as well as acne.
If you have at least 2 of these features, your doctor may diagnose you with PCOS.
Polycystic ovaries are characterized by a large number of follicles that are up to 8mm (approximately 0.3in) in size. These follicles are underdeveloped and thus unable to release an egg thereby prohibiting ovulation.
The CDC notes that PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in women in the United States, affecting up to 12% of women of childbearing age. In many cases, women with PCOS are insulin resistant with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. They have higher levels of androgens, which can prevent ovulation, result in irregular periods, thinning scalp hair, acne, weight gain, and/or excess facial and body hair.
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