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What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Written by Dr. Edward Group Founder

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine system disorders in women. [1] Affecting between 10 and 20 percent of reproductive-age women, PCOS is caused by an imbalance in female hormones. [2] A healthy endocrine system is responsible for many things, including the production of hormones. But, when this system is not functioning as it should, the concerns begin. In the case of PCOS, this imbalance of hormones affects the reproductive system.

What is PCOS?

"Polycystic Ovary Syndrome" sounds scary, but that becomes less so once you understand it. Let’s break it down to really get at what it means. In a healthy woman’s reproductive system, ovulation and menstruation occur normally each month; but, in the system of a woman with PCOS, these processes get a little confused. Because of elevated testosterone (another hormonal imbalance) within the ovary, an egg might not detach from the follicle. This means one of two things — an irregular period or none at all. Some of you might think that sounds great; not having a period means one less thing to worry about, right? Well, not in this case. Those immature eggs that never detached are left behind, causing cysts within the ovaries.

This can lead to issues like infertility, but there are also darker concerns: increased cancer risk. A study from the Department of Reproductive Medicine suggests that women with PCOS have an increased risk of endometrial cancer due to the irregularity or absence of periods. [3] Still, another study from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggests a lack of ovulation also increases the risk for ovarian or breast cancers. [4]

One Final Thought

With hormonal imbalances at work, PCOS has so many interconnected symptoms that a diagnosis can be difficult. [5] This can certainly make things frustrating for those who think they might have it. Since the endocrine system is responsible for the function of many other systems in the body, your overall health begins here, so make sure you’re paying attention to your body’s internal cues.

References (5)
  1. Ortega-Gonzalez, C. Insulin sensitizing drugs increase the endogenous dopaminergic tone in obese insulin-resistant women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Journal of Endocrinology 2005 Jan; 84; 233-239.
  2. Daniilidis, A., & Dinas, K. Long term health consequences of polycystic ovarian syndrome: a review analysis. Hippokratia, 13(2), 90–92.
  3. Balen, A. Polycystic ovary syndrome and cancer. Human reproduction update, 7(6), 522-525.
  4. Carmina, Enrico & Lobo, Rogerio A. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Arguably the Most Common Endocrinopathy Is Associated with Significant Morbidity in Women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 1999 84:6,1897-1899.
  5. Radosh L. Drug treatments for polycystic ovary syndrome. Am Fam Physician.;79:671-676.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

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