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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) Overview

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS, polycystic ovary syndrome) is a relatively common hormonal disorder that causes a number of different symptoms in women of reproductive age. Common to all women with PCOS is an irregularity in the menstrual cycle and the presence of excess male hormones (androgens). The condition was named because of the finding of enlarged ovaries containing multiple small cysts (polycystic ovaries). Although most women with PCOS have polycystic ovaries, some affected women do not. PCOS has also been referred to as Stein-Leventhal syndrome and polycystic ovarian disease (POD).

Picture of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Picture of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS Causes

The exact cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome is not clear, although a number of abnormalities have been documented in women with PCOS. There is some evidence for an inherited (genetic) cause for PCOS, although no specific genetic mutation has been identified as the cause. It has been shown that the ovaries of women with PCOS may produce excessive amounts of male hormones, or androgens, which lead to disruptions in the menstrual cycle and impaired fertility.

PCOS is also associated with insulin resistance, or an impaired ability to utilize insulin, and this abnormality is also likely related to the cause of PCOS.

The presence of small cysts in the ovaries is not specific for PCOS, since women who do not have PCOS may have ovarian cysts. Therefore the presence of cysts is not likely to be the cause of the symptoms of PCOS.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/11/2016

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