The precise cause of PCOS isn’t known, but there are factors that seem to contribute to its development. There’s often a genetic link, and a patient with PCOS may have a mother or sister with the condition. Low-grade systemic infections stimulate polycystic activity in the ovaries. Patients with insulin resistance and an excess of insulin in the blood may also see an increased risk of PCOS. When ovaries are stimulated in any of these ways, production of male hormones rises, interfering with ovulation.
If a woman is susceptible to PCOS, symptoms typically start once she begins having menstrual periods. Occasionally, symptoms develop in later years, such as in response to a significant weight gain. Usually, two of the following symptoms may indicate PCOS:
PCOS usually affects each woman slightly differently, and the symptoms associated with PCOS are usually more severe with weight gain and obesity.
Treatment usually focuses on the predominant symptoms that a woman experiences, since these vary widely from case to case. Where weight is a factor, lifestyle changes to include increased physical activity and reduced calorie intake usually relieve symptoms. Even small changes in body weight may improve the patient’s condition.
It may help to regulate the menstrual cycle with medication, such as birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin and help decrease androgen production. Skin patches and vaginal rings may alternatively be prescribed. Progesterone therapy regulates the menstrual cycle, but doesn’t prevent pregnancy or reduce androgen levels. Excessive hair growth may also be treated as a separate condition.