Ovarian Cysts Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Pcos Symptoms

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can become a serious hormonal disorder that affects about one in every ten women and is a leading cause of infertility. Although researchers are still exploring the exact causes of PCOS, they have linked symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome to insulin resistance (the body’s lack of reaction to normal levels of insulin).

What is PCOS?

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), a woman suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome if she exhibits two out of these three characteristics:

  • Anovulation: Lack of menstrual cycle due to stress, mental or physical illness, hormonal imbalances, malnutrition or ovarian failure.
  • Excess androgen: A large amount of hormones related to masculine sex organs, namely testosterone.
  • Polycystic ovaries: Enlarged ovaries that display the presence of small cysts around their follicles on a gynecologic ultrasound.

The ovaries may be stimulated to overproduce male hormones either because of excessive amounts of luteinizing hormone (LH) or insulin in the blood.

Common Symptoms of PCOS

Those who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome generally experience a combination of the following symptoms of PCOS:

  • Acanthosis nigricans: While these tan to black skin blotches are common in those with polycystic ovarian syndrome, they are more closely related to insulin resistance.
  • Acne: Along with acne, oily, flaky, red skin is common in PCOS.
  • Acrochordons: These skin tags are small benign tumors that tend to form in skin creases (i.e., in the neck, groin, elbows, etc.).
  • Alopecia: Commonly known as male pattern baldness, alopecia affects women with PCOS due to the higher levels of male hormones in their systems.
  • Amenorrhea: While amenorrhea may cause a woman to have few or no menstrual cycles, it can also cause excessively heavy cycles.
  • Central obesity: Commonly known as apple-shaped obesity, central obesity describes those who carry a large portion of their weight in the lower torso.
  • Dyspareunia: Marked by painful intercourse, this condition is often irreversible.
  • Infertility: The inability to reproduce is one of the most devastating symptoms of PCOS.
  • Sleep apnea: This sleeping disorder is marked by regular cessations (pauses) in one’s breathing during sleep.

Because each of the above symptoms of PCOS is dramatic and usually noticeable, women who exhibit one or more of them should consult a physician. While these symptoms don’t automatically indicate PCOS, they do indicate physical problems that demand treatment.

Mild Polycystic Ovary Symptoms

The following mild symptoms of PCOS don’t necessarily indicate polycystic ovarian syndrome, as young women tend to experience them when first starting to menstruate.

However, if these symptoms persist for extended periods of time, tests may confirm a PCOS diagnosis. Some mild symptoms of PCOS are:

  • Enlarged ovaries due to cyst development (up to three times larger than healthy ovaries)
  • Excess levels of insulin
  • High levels of certain hormones (namely LH, luteinizing hormone, and FSH, follicle-stimulating hormone) on the third day of the menstrual cycle
  • High levels of testosterone in a woman’s system
  • Low levels of SHBG, sex-hormone-binding globulin
  • Ovarian cysts that look like pearls on an ultrasonography
  • Ovaries that have a thicker, pearlier surface.

The exact causes of polycystic ovary syndrome are unknown, so there are no known ways to avoid PCOS. However, women can take certain preventative measures to stay as healthy as possible, including:

  • Eating healthy
  • Exercising
  • Getting regular gynecological exams.

Resources

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Polycystic ovary syndrome. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/polycystic-ovary-syndrome/DS00423/DSECTION=1.

National Women’s Health Information Center Staff. (2007). Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Retrieved February 15, 2010, from the Women’s Health Web site: http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/polycystic-ovary-syndrome.cfm.