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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

  • What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

    Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age. The eggs in the ovaries do not mature and are not released but form very small cysts in the ovary. The ovaries may become enlarged, with many small cysts on the outside. The disorder is linked to reduced fertility and irregular menstrual cycle with light menstrual flow. Women with this disorder may have difficulty becoming pregnant because they rarely ovulate (release eggs). They may also have higher levels of the male hormone androgen and problems with insulin production.

  • The exact cause of polycystic ovary syndrome is not known, although it is likely to be the result of both genetic and environmental factors.

  • Symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome include:

    • Acne, excess hair growth on the body, thinning hair on the head (male-pattern hair loss), decreased breast size and deepening voice – these symptoms are related to the increased level of the male hormone androgen, which can lead to development of male characteristics
    • Dandruff
    • High blood pressure
    • High cholesterol
    • Increased insulin level
    • Infertility
    • Irregular menstrual periods – there may be irregular or no menstruation, or long phases of very light or very heavy menstruation
    • Obesity and weight gain
    • Oily skin
  • Treatment varies depending on which symptoms bother you most:

    • Weight loss, healthy diet and exercise – a normal menstrual cycle may be achieved by exercising and losing weight. The chance of fertility returns with a normal menstrual cycle
    • Hormone treatment may be needed in addition to exercise and weight loss to achieve a normal menstrual cycle. The oral contraceptive pill may help to regulate menstruation
    • Some oral contraceptive pills can lower the male hormone levels to reduce facial hair, acne and thinning hair
    • Medication to induce ovulation may be needed to treat infertility
    • In vitro fertilisation (IVF) may be needed if surgery does not successfully treat infertility
    • Laparoscopic keyhole surgery on the polycystic ovaries may be needed if medication fails
  • Because of the disruption to hormones in polycystic ovary syndrome, such as insulin, you may be at risk for insulin resistance syndrome. Insulin is a hormone that is important for metabolising carbohydrates and maintaining blood sugar levels.

    As women with polycystic ovary syndrome are often resistant to insulin, there is an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke at a younger age.

    Other complications include:

    • Cancer of the uterus (womb)
    • High blood pressure
    • High cholesterol
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