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Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a lot more common than most women think and its important to understand the disease and what it means for the future

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is prevalent in many women across the world and up to 2 million just in the UK. The condition affects how a woman's ovaries work and causes three main factors:

  1. cysts that develop in the ovaries (small and polycystic)
  2. Your ovaries do not release eggs on a regular basis
  3. having high levels of "male hormones" called androgens in your body
Polycystic ovaries are ovaries that contain a large number of small cysts that are up to 8mm in size, however they are completely harmless.

They are produced from under developed sacs from where eggs have grown where the eggs are unable to be released meaning ovulation does not occur. Meaning a women does not experience menstruation on a regular basis as most women do.

Signs and Symptoms of PCOS

There are many different symptoms that can occur but many women have polycystic ovaries and have no symptoms at all. If you do start to experience them it is usually in your late teens or early twenties that they start to develop. Most common are:

  • Irregular periods or none at all - this symptom is very hard to diagnose alone as it can be caused by many factors. Many women who have irregular periods never get it checked out because they put it down to external factors such as stress
  • Difficulty getting pregnant - Now obviously this symptom only becomes apparent when trying for a baby and again it can be left undiagnosed because every woman understands it can take time to become pregnant.
  • Excessive hair growth - this is caused by the extra male hormones or androgens that are present when you suffer this condition. The hair growth usually appears on the face, chest and back.
  • Weight gain - again very hard to associate weight gain with PCOS but combined with other symptoms its a key factor.
  • Acne - many PCOS sufferers have acne in their late twenties when it should have cleared up by then

As you can see from the list there are lots of reasons for each of the individual symptoms so diagnosing PCOS can be difficult.

If you think you have any of the symptoms above you should consult your GP as they can often rule out other causes and will check your blood pressure. Usually if your doctor suspects PCOS a blood test is ordered to determine your hormone levels, an ultrasound will also be used to see fi there are cysts on the ovaries. However, diagnosing PCOS is normally the last option as many other causes are found for the symptoms.

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