Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels. The ovaries may develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs.
The exact cause of PCOS isn’t known. Factors that might play a role include:
- Excess insulin. Insulin is the hormone produced in the pancreas that allows cells to use sugar, your body’s primary energy supply. If your cells become resistant to the action of insulin, then your blood sugar levels can rise and your body might produce more insulin. Excess insulin might increase androgen production, causing difficulty with ovulation.
- Low-grade inflammation. This term is used to describe white blood cells’ production of substances to fight infection. Research has shown that women with PCOS have a type of low-grade inflammation that stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens, which can lead to heart and blood vessel problems.
- Heredity. Research suggests that certain genes might be linked to PCOS.
- Excess androgen. The ovaries produce abnormally high levels of androgen, resulting in hirsutism and acne.
If you have PCOS and your androgen levels are too high, you have higher odds for a number of complications. These can differ from woman to woman and include:
Trouble Getting Pregnant
Cysts in the ovaries can interfere with ovulation. That’s when one of your ovaries releases an egg each month. If a healthy egg isn’t available to be fertilized by a sperm, you can’t get pregnant. You may still be able to get pregnant if you have PCOS. But you might have to take medicine and work with a fertility specialist to make it happen.
Insulin Issues and Diabetes
Insulin resistance may cause your body to make too many androgens. If you have insulin resistance, the cells in your muscles, organs, and other tissues don’t absorb blood sugar very well. As a result, you can have too much sugar moving through your bloodstream. This is called diabetes, and it can cause problems with your cardiovascular and nervous systems.
This group of symptoms raises the risk of cardiovascular disease . The symptoms include high triglyceride and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels.
Other common complications of PCOS include:
- Bleeding from the uterus and higher risk of uterine cancer
- Sleep problems
- Inflammation of the liver