What is PCOS? (And how can you tell if you have it?)

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is thought to affect millions of women in the UK - and is one of the biggest causes of infertility. But how can you tell if you have it?

As acronyms go, PCOS is a pretty complex-sounding one. But it’s one that actually affects millions of women across the UK. Standing for ‘Polycystic Ovary Syndrome’, it’s a really common condition – like endometriosis – that can disrupt your periods and hinder your fertility – but you might not know that you have it.

What is PCOS? 

Caused by small fluid-filled sacs in your ovaries, surrounding the eggs, PCOS can cause excess androgen (those are the male hormones, which lead to extra body hair, etc), affect the regularity of your periods and is one of the UK’s leading causes of infertility.

What causes PCOS? 

‘Unfortunately, there is still some confusion throughout the medical world as to what causes PCOS. It is widely thought to have a genetic link however, this is yet to be scientifically proven,’ says Dr Israel Ortega, from world leading PCOS clinic IVI Fertility, adding that many women who suffer from PCOS have a hormone imbalance – including high levels of testosterone, Prolactin and LH.

How can you tell if you have PCOS? 

There’s no hard and fast rule, unfortunately, but there are certain symptoms which can indicate PCOS – although they vary from woman to woman. (So, if you only have one of them, then it’s probably still worth getting checked out by your GP.)

Problems getting pregnant, due to a lack of ovulation

Weight gain

Acne

Irregular periods

Hair loss (on your head)

Excessive hair growth on other parts of your body (face, arms and legs)

Sometimes PCOS can be associated with other conditions, such as type two diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, depression and sleep apnoea – although all of those issues can be managed following diagnosis.

What should you do if you’re worried you have PCOS

Testing for PCOS isn’t a big deal – you might have to have an ultrasound scan and/or a blood test, but your doctor will also be able to see whether you’re suffering from another condition instead. And if you do have it, don’t worry – you’ll be referred to a specialist who’ll be able to take you through the next steps.

How do you treat PCOS? 

As it stands, there’s no cure for PCOS. But that doesn’t mean you can’t manage your symptoms.

For some women – especially those who suffer from irregular periods, taking the contraceptive pill can help to regulate your cycle. For others, a healthier lifestyle can help to limit the impact of PCOS on their body – studies have actually shown that for women with particularly high BMIs can experience reduced symptoms if they manage to reduce their body weight by five per cent.

‘If you are trying to get pregnant and suffer from PCOS then it is recommended that you visit a fertility specialist who will be able to check if there are any further problems, such as blocked fallopian tubes, before advising on the best cause of medication,’ says Dr Israel Ortega. ‘Clomifene is often prescribed in the first instance and is used to encourage the regular release of an egg from the ovaries. If this medication is found to be unsuccessful, then there are a number of other options which can be considered too.’

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