Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common disorder that is still poorly understood. As September is the PCOS Awareness Month we were eager to spread awareness about this disorder as well.

What is it, who has it and what are the long-term consequences?

Let’s find out!

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine (hormonal) disorder that affects up to 20% of girls and women of reproductive age. This syndrome is mainly characterized by irregular menstruation cycles, hyperandrogenism (excessive male hormone testosterone) and polycystic ovaries. As it is a multidimensional condition, environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors have a role in the development of PCOS.

PCOS was first reported in literature in 1935 when several women reported symptoms such as amenorrhea (lack of menstruation), hirsutism (excessive hair growth) and enlarged ovaries with multiple cysts. However, only in 1990 the World Health Organization (WHO) included PCOS as a disorder of ovarian functions in the International Classification of Diseases.

In the beginning, PCOS was considered to be a cosmetic or fertility disorder, but studies conducted over the recent years demonstrate that PCOS actually has long-term risks and can lead to deadly consequences.

PCOS facts and statistics

  • As PCOS is a syndrome, it encompasses various different symptoms. It affects women’s health on multiple levels, such as hormonal, metabolic and cardiovascular

  • The diagnosis of PCOS is a diagnostic of exclusion. Therefore, the first step of diagnosis is the exclusion of other possible causes such as hypothyroidism, ovarian failure or tumors

  • PCOS patients report menstrual problems such as oligomenorrhea (infrequent menstruation), amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) or prolonged menstruation. But these are not generalized symptoms, as around 30% of PCOS patients have regular menstruation cycles

  • Up to 90% of women with oligomenorrhea (infrequent menstruation) and around 40% of women with amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) are diagnosed with PCOS

  • The absence of regular menstruation and, consequently, ovulation increases the chances of developing endometrial cancer or endometrial hyperplasia (thickening of the uterine lining); the risk of developing endometrial cancer is 2.7 times higher in women with PCOS than in healthy women

  • Up to 30% of adult women with PCOS suffer from acne

  • Around 80% of women that present excessive levels of testosterone have PCOS. One consequence of excessive levels of male hormones is hirsutism, and its prevalence among women with PCOS is 70%.

  • PCOS affects fertility and around 40% of women become infertile; the explanation lies in the process of ovulation which is blocked; women with PCOS have higher risks of miscarriage.

  • Another PCOS related infertility factor is insulin resistance, as excessive secretion of insulin affects the production of ovarian hormones negatively

Risk factors

1. Family history

  • Upon observing cases of PCOS amongst several members of the same family, over the years it became clear that it is a genetic disorder

  • PCOS amongst family members has a prevalence of up to 6%

2. Excessive body weight