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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

What is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (also called PCOS, polycystic ovary syndrome, or Stein Leventhal syndrome) is the most common hormonal and reproductive problem affecting women of childbearing age. It is estimated that about 8 percent to 15 percent of women experience this disorder.

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, PCOS is defined by the presence of any two of the following characteristics:

  • lack of ovulation for an extended period of time
  • high levels of androgens (male hormones)
  • many small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) on the ovaries
  • many small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) on the ovaries
What causes PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is unclear. It is common for sisters or a mother and daughter to have PCOS, but a definite genetic link has not been found.

PCOS results from a combination of several related factors. Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, in which the body cannot use insulin efficiently. This leads to high circulating blood levels of insulin, called hyperinsulinemia. It is believed that hyperinsulinemia is related to increased androgen levels, as well as obesity and type 2 diabetes. In turn, obesity can increase insulin levels, causing worsening of PCOS.

Treatment for PCOS:

Specific treatment for PCOS will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disorder
  • cause of the disorder
  • your signs and symptoms
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disorder
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment for PCOS also depends on whether or not a woman wants to become pregnant.

For women who do not want to become pregnant, treatment is focused on correcting the abnormal hormone levels, weight reduction, and managing cosmetic concerns.