Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition caused by an imbalance of a woman’s reproductive hormones and other metabolic problems. It affects as many as 1 in 10 women. It may affect menstruation and fertilisation, and cause physical bodily changes. Thankfully, this condition can be treated.

PCOS is characterised by the growth of small cysts on one’s ovaries. The cysts are not malignant but are the cause of the hormonal imbalance. Hormones are chemical messengers that catalyse bodily processes. Sometimes the role of a hormone is to signal the release of another hormone. Hormones work in positive or negative feedback systems. The hypothalamus of the brain triggers the ovaries to release the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which play a role in menstruation each month.

However,  the ovaries normally produce a little of the male sex hormones but because the reproductive hormones are out of balance, more of the male sex hormone is secreted. This may stop you from ovulating, develop acne and grow more facial and body hair (hirsutism). This is one of the symptoms of PCOS. Others include an irregular menstrual cycle because of the hormonal imbalance, fertility problems, weight gain, darkening of skin along the groin, neck and underneath breasts and small excess flaps of skin near the underarms or neck.

While the cause of PCOS is not fully known, it is understood that genetics play a factor. As mentioned above, high levels of androgens (male sex hormones) play a role, as well as high levels of insulin. Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, which is also a condition caused by an imbalance in hormones.

PCOS is diagnosed by a doctor who will check for the physical symptoms mentioned above. The doctor will also test blood for high levels of insulin and androgens, which will help rule out the possibility of it being a different hormonal condition. The doctor will also do an ultrasound to look for the presence of cysts.

PCOS does increase the risk of contracting other diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and depression, to name a few. It is important to treat PCOS to lessen the severity of the symptoms. Although there is no cure, PCOS is treated by a healthy lifestyle. Doctors may prescribe birth control pills to help with a regular menstrual cycle, help improve acne and decrease the growth of hair, or fertility medication if there is difficulty getting pregnant. If you are already pregnant, PCOS can cause complications during the pregnancy, which is why it is important to implement exercise and healthy eating as part of your daily routine. Folic acid may also be prescribed as a preventative measure.