Could you have PCOS? Symptoms, signs and causes of polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome can cause acne, hair loss and fertility problems, but what causes it and can it be treated? We ask the experts…

It can cause acne, hair loss and fertility problems and is a common concern for millions of women across the UK – but do you know the warning signs of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

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Here to provide some clarity on the topic is fertility and PCOS specialist Dr Israel Ortega from world-leading clinic IVI Fertility during PCOS awareness month.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone-related problem caused by small cysts growing on a woman’s ovaries, which subsequently cause a hormone imbalance.

This imbalance causes problems with the regularity of women’s periods, and can also cause problems for women when trying to get pregnant. If not treated effectively, PCOS can also lead to more serious health concerns such as diabetes and heart disease. 

What causes PCOS?

“Unfortunately, there is still some confusion throughout the medical world as to what causes PCOS. It is widely thought to have a genetic link however, this is yet to be scientifically proven,” explains Dr Ortega.

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“We also know that many women suffering from PCOS are found to have a hormone imbalance which is likely to be a contributing factor. In particular, women with PCOS are known to have raised levels of testosterone, Prolactin and LH, and are often deficient in SHBG – which also increases the effect of testosterone.”

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

While the symptoms differ from person to person, the most common symptoms experienced include:

-          Difficulty in getting pregnant due to a lack of ovulation
-          Weight gain
-          Acne
-          Irregular periods
-          Hair loss from the head
-          Excessive hair growth all over the body

“In addition to the most common symptoms listed above, women suffering from PCOS can also find themselves susceptible to some more serious health problems later in life such as type two diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, depression and sleep apnoea,” says Dr Ortega.

What should you do if you think you have PCOS?

First, visit your doctor who can carry out test and checks to rule out any other conditions.

In some cases, they will carry out an ultrasound scan and/or blood test too. Following a diagnosis, you may be referred to a specialist who can help advise you on how to manage the symptoms.

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How is PCOS treated?

While there’s no cure for PCOS, there are ways in which you can manage the symptoms.

“In some cases, a weight loss programme may be advised to help reduce the effect of PCOS. Studies have shown that in overweight women, a decrease of just 5% of their body mass can have a positive impact on PCOS,” explains Dr Ortega.

For those suffering from missed or irregular periods it is often advisable to go on the contraceptive pill which can help to regulate a cycle.

If you are trying to get pregnant and suffer from PCOS then it is recommended that you visit a fertility specialist who will be able to check if there are any further problems, such as blocked fallopian tubes, before advising on the best cause of medication.

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