Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder commonly found in women who are at a reproductive age. A common sign that one has PCOS is that she is experiencing either extended or infrequent menstrual periods or has high levels of androgens–aka male hormones. If one has PCOS, the ovaries could form a series of follicles, or little collections of fluid, and be unable to release eggs on a regular basis. This could ultimately lead to infertility.
While specialists haven’t yet pinned down the underlying cause of PCOS, they can help reduce the risk of its long-term complications by catching and treating the condition early. Some factors that scientists believe could influence one’s likelihood of developing PCOS include:
- Heredity. Studies have shown that certain genes could be connected to PCOS.
- Excess androgens. The ovaries could make exceptionally high levels of androgens, which generally lead to acne and male-pattern hair growth in women, or hirsutism. It can also lead to male-pattern baldness.
- Excess insulin. The pancreas produces insulin, which lets cells consume sugar, our body’s main supplier of energy. If our cells become insulin-resistant, our blood-sugar levels rise in response, causing the body to produce even more insulin. Excess insulin, in turn, may increase the production of androgens in the body, which could ultimately make ovulation–or the release of eggs–more difficult.
- Low-grade inflammation. Low-grade inflammation occurs when the body’s white blood cells produce infection-combating substances. Studies have shown that individuals with PCOS have a form of low-grade inflammation that causes polycystic ovaries to make androgens, which can in turn lead to blood vessel and heart issues.
Signs of PCOS commonly appear around puberty, but can also show up around one’s first ever menstrual period. However, the condition can also manifest later, sometimes in response to major weight gain. The condition’s signs vary, but a diagnosis is typically made if you’re exhibiting at least two of the following:
- Hirsutism. Higher levels of male hormones can cause hirsutism, as well as severe acne and male-pattern baldness in more extreme cases.
- Enlarged ovaries. If you have polycystic ovaries, your ovaries could be enlarged, with follicles surrounding the eggs. This could prevent your ovaries from functioning properly.
- Irregular periods. The most common sign of PCOS is irregular periods. This could mean that they’re prolonged or infrequent.
Complications of PCOS may include:
- Premature birth
- Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
- Eating disorders
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Endometrial cancer
- Prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes
- Gestational diabetes
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (fat accumulation in the liver that causes severe inflammation)
- Various metabolic syndromes that could heighten your risk of cardiovascular disease including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that you see a doctor if you are:
- Experiencing infertility
- Are concerned about your menstrual cycle
- Have signs of excess androgens, like hirsutism
While PCOS has a slew of potential complications, many of which can be severe, catching the condition and treating it early can help prevent the likelihood of them occurring. The Ezra MRI scan could help you catch PCOS; you can learn more about our scanning packages here.