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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone imbalance that can cause irregular periods, unwanted hair growth, and acne. It is also known as Stein-Leventhal Syndrome or Polycystic Ovary Disease.


It usually begins during the teenage years and can be mild or severe. Polycystic ovary syndrome is a health problem that can affect a woman's hormone levels, periods, and ovulation and therefore her fertility and pregnancy. It can also cause male-type body changes. The name comes from the fact that the ovaries of women with this syndrome are large and studded with numerous cysts. These cysts are follicles, fluid-filled sacs that contain immature eggs. It has been identified for 75 years but the experts are still not sure what causes it.

Incidence

An estimated 5 to 10 percent of women in childbearing age have PCOS. Polycystic ovary syndrome is considered the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age in the United States. 

Signs and symptoms of PCOS

The symptoms of PCOS can vary from woman to woman but experts agree that, a woman diagnosed with PCOS should have at least two of the following indications:

Irregular or no menstruation
This is definitely the most common symptom of PCOS. What exactly is irregular menstruation? It means having menstrual cycles that occur at intervals longer than 35 days or fewer than eight times a year.
 
Excess androgen
This is also a very common symptom. Elevated levels of male hormones may result in physical signs such as excess facial hair or hair on the chest, lower abdomen, back, upper arms or upper legs, acne and male-pattern baldness.
 
Miscarriage
It is proven that one of the hormonal abnormalities in PCOS, a raised level of luteinizing hormone, seems to be linked with miscarriage. Women with raised LH have a higher miscarriage rate compared to those who have normal LH values.

Enlarged ovaries with multiple cysts
This symptom is usually detected with ultrasound. However, it is important to understand that not all women have polycystic ovary syndrome if they have ovaries with multiple cysts. Sometimes even woman with PCOS may have ovaries that appear normal.
 
Obesity
Many women with polycystic ovary syndrome are obese.  

Other possible conditions associated with polycystic ovary syndrome are:

  • Infertility
  • Acantosis nigricans – darkened skin on  the neck, armpits, inner thighs, vulva…
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Acne
  • High cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea - excessive snoring or breathing that stops at times while asleep
  • Elevated insulin levels, Insulin Resistance, or Diabetes

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