Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common gynecological problems diagnosed in women. Dr. Anna Le and the team at Annandale Ob-Gyn encourage you to seek early treatment for PCOS to avoid serious complications like infertility. To learn more about PCOS, call one of their offices in Annandale or Alexandria, Virginia, or book an appointment online for a thorough health evaluation.

What is polycystic ovary syndrome?

Women with PCOS have an imbalance of hormones that affect their ovaries. As a result, eggs may not develop normally or an egg isn’t released every month.

While the exact cause of PCOS remains under investigation, medical experts believe that it’s influenced by genetics and an imbalance of androgens. Androgens are male sex hormones that women normally have in small amounts. By comparison, women with PCOS have high levels of androgens than other women do.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

PCOS usually develops at puberty, but can occur later in life. If you have PCOS, you’ll have at least two of the three primary symptoms:

  • Abnormal menstruation: Irregular, prolonged, or absent
  • Ovarian cysts: Small fluid-filled sacs found in the ovaries
  • Hirsutism: Excess facial and body hair due to high androgens

Some women may also experience symptoms such as:

  • Acne
  • Hair loss
  • Skin tags in armpits or neck
  • Darkening of skin on neck, groin, and under breasts

What are health problems associated with PCOS?

Hormone imbalances have an impact throughout your body, which means women with PCOS can develop other serious health problems including:

  • Infertility – PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility because your ovaries don’t produce eggs or randomly release them.
  • Excess weight – It’s estimated that more than half of women with PCOS gain weight. This may be caused by high levels of androgens or a tendency to develop insulin resistance.
  • Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes – Nearly 40% of women with PCOS develop insulin resistance, whether they gain weight or not. Insulin resistance — when your body doesn’t respond properly to insulin — increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Metabolic syndrome – PCOS raises the risk of metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and high cholesterol or triglycerides.

How is PCOS treated?

When PCOS goes untreated, the hormone imbalances and health conditions associated with it can create cycles that continuously worsen the problem. For example, insulin resistance causes weight gain, while weight gain worsens insulin resistance, making it more likely you’ll develop type 2 diabetes.

Treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms, because there’s currently no cure for PCOS. Your treatment plan is always customized to meet your needs. It may include lifestyle changes to help you lose weight, or your doctor may prescribe one of many possible medications that promote ovulation, regulate menstrual periods, or eliminate excessive hair growth.