Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is characterized by immature follicles in the ovaries

PCOS is a health disorder in which a woman’s hormones are out of balance. There may be one or more causes for the hormone level changes. PCOS is common disease of the reproductive system that affects teenage girls and adult women. According the NIH, approximately 5 million women of reproductive-age in the United States are affected by this syndrome. Most women with PCOS grow many small cysts on their ovaries. That is why it is called polycystic ovary syndrome. The cysts are not harmful but lead to hormone imbalances.

For reasons that are not well understood, in PCOS the hormones get out of balance. One hormone change triggers another, which changes another.  PCOS is linked to changes in the level of certain hormones: estrogen and progesterone, the female hormones that help a woman's ovaries release eggs and Androgen, a male hormone found in small amounts in women.

Women who are affected with this disorder often have a mother or sister who also suffer or has symptoms similar to PCOS.

Black Women and PCOS

Black women are disproportionately affected by PCOS. This can be attributed to obesity and overall poor access to health care as well as other social determinants of health.

What are the symptoms for PCOS?

Symptoms tend to be mild at first. A woman may have only a few symptoms or a lot of them. The most common symptoms are:

  • Acne

  • Weight gain/trouble losing weight. Obesity seems to worsen this condition

  • Extra facial hair on the face/body, thicker and darker facial hair, hair on the chest, belly, and back. This condition is called hirsutism

  • Hyperpygmentation --- from removal of facial/neck hair

  • Thinning hair on the scalp

  • Irregular periods. Often women with PCOS have fewer than nine periods a year. Some women have no periods. Others have very heavy bleeding.

  • Infertility

  • Depression

  • The body may have a problem using insulin—leading to insulin resistance or diabetes.

PCOS seems to run in families, so a woman’s chance of having it is higher if other women in her family have PCOS, irregular periods, or diabetes. PCOS can be passed down from either the mother's or father's side.

Diagnosis of PCOS

See a doctor who ask questions about past health, symptoms, and menstrual cycles.  A doctor will look and/or perform:

  • Physical exam to look for signs of PCOS

  • Look for extra body hair and high blood pressure

  • Check height and weight for a healthy body mass index (BMI)

  • Do a number of lab tests to check blood sugar, insulin, and other hormone levels. Hormone tests can help rule out thyroid or other gland problems that could cause similar symptoms

  • Pelvic ultrasound to look for cysts on ovaries

Doctors may be able to tell that a woman has PCOS without an ultrasound but it helps rule out other health problems.


Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to avoid and reduce the long-term complications, such as diabetes and heart disease.

  • Regular exercise and stress reduction: such as moderate activity on a regular basis such as walking, yoga, meditation, or acupuncture are highly advisable. Most women who have PCOS can benefit from losing weight. Even losing 10 lbs may help get the hormones in balance and regulate menstrual cycle.

  • PCOS can make it hard to lose weight, so professional help might be helpful.

  • Smoking — women who smoke have higher androgen levels that may contribute to PCOS symptoms Smoking also increases the risk for heart disease

  • Nutrition — eat a heart-healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains. Limits foods that are high in saturated fat, such as meats, cheeses, and fried foods. Eating healthy foods and weight control are among the key treatments for PCOS

  • Medicines — birth control pills can help regulate periods and reduce symptoms such as excess facial hair and acne.

  • Medicines to balance hormones may be used.

  • Androgen-lowering medicine also known as spironolactone, may be used with birth control pills to help reduce symptoms.

Treatment can reduce unpleasant symptoms and help prevent long-term health problems. These medicines cannot be used if a woman is trying to get pregnant.