Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is common. It can cause period problems, reduced fertility, excess hair growth, and acne. Many women with PCOS are also overweight. Treatment includes weight loss (if you are overweight), and lifestyle changes in addition to treating the individual symptoms.
Understanding ovaries and ovulation
The ovaries are a pair of glands that lie on either side of the womb (uterus). Each ovary is about the size of a large marble. The ovaries make eggs (ova) and various hormones. Hormones are chemicals that are made in one part of the body, pass into the bloodstream, and have an effect on other parts of the body.
- Ovulation normally occurs once a month when you release an egg (ovum) into a Fallopian tube which leads into the uterus. Before an ovum is released at ovulation, it develops within a little swelling of the ovary called a follicle (like a tiny cyst). Each month several follicles start to develop, but normally just one fully develops and goes on to ovulate.
- The main hormones that are made in the ovaries are oestrogen and progesterone - the main female hormones. These hormones help with the development of breasts, and are the main controllers of the menstrual cycle. The ovaries also normally make small amounts of male hormones (androgens) such as testosterone.
What is polycystic ovary syndrome?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), formerly known as the Stein-Leventhal syndrome, is a condition where at least two of the following occur, and often all three:
- At least 12 tiny cysts (follicles) develop in your ovaries. (Polycystic means many cysts.)
- The balance of hormones that you make in the ovaries is altered. In particular, your ovaries make more than normal of the male hormone testosterone.
- You do not ovulate each month. Some women do not ovulate at all. In PCOS, although the ovaries usually have many follicles, they do not develop fully and so ovulation often does not occur. If you do not ovulate then you may not have a period.
What causes polycystic ovary syndrome?
The exact cause is not totally clear. Several factors probably play a part. These include the following:
Luteinising hormone (LH)
What are the symptoms and problems of polycystic ovary syndrome?
Symptoms that occur if you do not ovulate
- Period problems occur in about 7 in 10 women with PCOS. You may have irregular or light periods, or no periods at all.
- Fertility problems - you need to ovulate to become pregnant. You may not ovulate each month, and some women with PCOS do not ovulate at all. PCOS is one of the most common causes of not being able to get pregnant (infertility).