Everything You Need to Know About PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in which the ovaries produce higher amounts of androgens than the usual amount normally present in women. Androgens are male sex hormones that women usually have in small amounts. When the ovaries produce those hormones in abnormal quantities, it leads to polycystic ovary syndrome, a disorder that can happen to women and cause cysts, as referenced in its name. However, in some cases, it may not lead to cyst development (fluid-filled sacs). In this article, we will explore what PCOS is, its symptoms, causes and how to treat PCOS.

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Ovulation happens when a mature egg is released from the ovary so it can be fertilized by sperm. If left without fertilization, the egg ends up being sent out of the body during your period. In case your body doesn't produce enough ovulation hormones, and therefore ovulation does not occur, the ovaries may develop small cysts. These cysts, in turn, produce androgens that can cause issues with the menstrual cycle and lead to many symptoms of PCOS.

Causes of PCOS

While the exact cause of PCOS is not verified, it is assumed to be related to varying and irregular hormone levels. Here are some of the causes that are associated with having abnormal hormone levels and PCOS:

Insulin resistance

In many cases of PCOS, women have resistance to insulin as well. Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar levels and is produced by the pancreas. If glucose does not move from the blood into the cells to produce energy when broken down, it may cause higher androgen levels as a result. Then the body, in that case, will produce extra insulin as a way to compensate for its resistance, leading to high levels of insulin. This causes the ovaries to increase their testosterone production, interfering with ovulation and the development of follicles. Additionally, insulin resistance can cause weight gain and make PCOS symptoms even worse.


Polycystic ovary syndrome sometimes runs in families genetically, meaning that women with relatives that have PCOS are at an increased risk of developing it as well. However, there have not been specific genes identified or associated with PCOS.

Hormone imbalance

Many women with PCOS may have hormonal imbalances, including having high levels of luteinizing hormone that stimulates ovulation but can negatively affect the ovaries when too high. Another hormonal change that can be identified as a cause of PCOS is increased testosterone levels which women usually produce in small amounts. Other hormones in this category include sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) and prolactin, a hormone that encourages breast milk production.

Signs of PCOS

The main signs and features of PCOS include irregular periods, excess androgen levels and polycystic ovaries. These signs begin to be noticeable in the late teens and early twenties. Here are more details on these features and other signs to help you identify PCOS:

  • Irregular menstruation or missed periods.
  • Weight gain in the abdominal area.
  • Hair loss or thinning hair.
  • Increased body hair growth.
  • Oily skin and acne.
  • Irregular ovulation and difficulty conceiving. (Infertility)

Treatment for PCOS

PCOS is often treated with medication to help reduce its symptoms and prevent specific health problems that are associated with it. In addition to drug treatments, PCOS patients can follow lifestyle modifications and recommendations for optimal results. Here are some ways women can deal with PCOS through simple lifestyle changes:

Maintain healthy weight

Many women who have PCOS are overweight or obese, which can lead to many health issues like type 2 diabetes, infertility and cardiovascular disease. The symptoms and overall risk of long-term health problems from PCOS in overweight women can be significantly improved by losing excess weight. Try to lose or maintain a healthy weight by exercising and watching your calories intake to avoid any complications to your PCOS condition.

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise can be a beneficial lifestyle modification for women with PCOS since it helps fight obesity by building muscle mass, burning calories and decreasing insulin resistance. Regular activity can also lower cholesterol levels and other hormones like testosterone, for example.

Follow a healthy diet for PCOS

Many women with PCOS also have resistance to insulin, which enables the body to use glucose from food for energy and helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels. If you are diagnosed with PCOS and insulin resistance, your doctor may recommend following a diet low in sugar and carbohydrates. A generally healthier diet for PCOS should include a variety of food types, including healthy carbs, protein and high fibre grains, to help your body use food for energy and not store it as fat. A more nutritious diet that consists of foods high in fibre will also help keep blood sugar levels in check.

Foods to avoid for women with PCOS

It is recommended to avoid refined carbs that are found in processed food like white flour, rice sugar, and sugary drinks like juices and soda drinks. Also, avoid starchy vegetables such as corn, potatoes and peas. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a dietitian if he believes you need specific dietary restrictions and advice.


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