Polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that affects how your ovaries work.

Key points about PCOS:

What is PCOS?

If you’re of childbearing age, you generally produce an egg from an ovary every month. This process requires a fine-tuned response from a complex hormonal system. If you have PCOS, more testosterone and insulin is produced than is needed. This excess hormone stops the release of eggs from your ovary, but it doesn't stop them being produced. The eggs continue to build up in your ovaries, which is why the condition is referred to as polycystic ovaries (many cysts in your ovaries).

Who gets PCOS?

PCOS can begin at puberty or even in early to mid-20s. It is the most common hormonal condition affecting women of childbearing age, about 8–13 out of every 100 people. You may not know you have PCOS until you have difficulty getting pregnant.

What causes PCOS?

The cause of PCOS is not yet known but it might run in families. If any of your relatives are affected with PCOS, your risk of developing it may be increased. The symptoms are related to increased hormone levels, mainly testosterone and insulin.

Testosterone is a hormone produced by the ovaries. If you have PCOS, your ovaries produce much more testosterone than they need to. This excess is what causes many of the symptoms of PCOS.

Insulin is a hormone that controls the level of glucose (a type of sugar) in your blood. If you have PCOS, your body may not be able to use the insulin as it should (this is known as insulin resistance(. As a result, the level of glucose in your blood becomes too high. To try to lower your blood glucose levels, your body produces even more insulin. High levels of insulin can lead to weight gain, irregular periods and fertility problems.

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