What exactly is PCOS? How Do I Know If I Have It?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal condition that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal condition that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. (Image: Pixabay)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal condition that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. (Image: Pixabay)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal condition that causes a reproductive hormone imbalance, where the ovaries produce abnormal amounts of androgens (male hormones), particularly testosterone. It affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. 

The word “polycystic” means “many cysts”. It is a syndrome as it has a set of symptoms that affect ovaries and ovulation. Its three characteristics are:

  1. Development of multiple small fluid-filled sacs(cysts) in the ovaries.

  2. Increased androgen levels.

  3. Disturbances in the menstrual cycle - Missed periods or irregular periods.

Most common symptoms of PCOS

  • Disturbance in menstrual cycle: Irregular menstrual cycle or heavy bleeding. 

  • Weight gain: Unexplainable weight gain and difficulty in losing weight.

  • Hirsutism: Excessive body hair on the face, chin, or parts of the body where men usually have hair due to excess androgens.

  • Acanthosis Nigricans:  Darkening of the skin, especially in the areas of groin,  along the neck creases, and under the breasts.

  • Male-pattern baldness: Hair thinning or hair loss on the scalp.

  • Infertility: Trouble conceiving pregnancy.

  • Headaches and fatigue: Hormonal changes can trigger headaches.

  • Acne: Oily skin and breakouts on areas of face, upper back, and chest. 

  • Mood swings: Frequent mood swings due to hormonal imbalance.

Pelvic pain is a less common symptom of PCOS. However, PCOS can cause ovarian cysts leading to pelvic pain. (Image: Pixabay)
Pelvic pain is a less common symptom of PCOS. However, PCOS can cause ovarian cysts leading to pelvic pain. (Image: Pixabay)

How PCOS is diagnosed

Doctors usually diagnose PCOS in women who have at least two of these three symptoms:

  • Irregular or absent monthly periods.

  • Excessive hair growth on the face and body.

  • Presence of multiple cysts on the ovaries seen on ultrasonography.

  • Higher than normal levels of androgens and other hormones on blood tests.

Consult a doctor to prevent PCOS complications. (Image: Pixabay)
Consult a doctor to prevent PCOS complications. (Image: Pixabay)

The bottom line

If you suspect PCOS and have any of the aforementioned symptoms, consult a doctor to prevent PCOS complications.

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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal condition that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. (Image: Pixabay)
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