Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common, yet tricky gynecological condition that requires a multifaceted approach, along with trial and error to manage effectively. This hormonal imbalance affects one in 10 women of childbearing age and can throw your body out of whack. Because hormones have a major influence on many functions within the body, PCOS affects your body in a multitude of ways. Understanding how PCOS affects your body can help you manage symptoms and live well with this condition.
PCOS is a hormonal imbalance. It happens when women produce higher-than-normal amounts of androgens – sometimes called male hormones. Those excess androgens circulating in the bloodstream negatively impact the rest of the body.
If you have PCOS, it’s perfectly normal to wonder: Why? Could you have prevented it? How does it affect your body? As doctors, we have yet to uncover the exact cause of PCOS. A genetic component appears to make some women more susceptible to developing PCOS than others. The condition tends to run in families.
Additionally, most women with PCOS are overweight or obese and have increased insulin levels, both of which cause higher androgen production. Though there’s no known cure for PCOS, it is a manageable condition.
Hormonal imbalance can affect your body in various ways. Here are the most common ways PCOS affects the body.
Weight gain is a central feature of PCOS, and it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation when it comes to figuring out which came first. We do know that obesity causes higher androgens, and elevated androgens contribute to obesity. It’s estimated that as many as 80% of women with PCOS are overweight or obese.
Although it is more difficult for women with PCOS to lose weight, we find that weight loss plays a significant role in reducing PCOS symptoms.
Outside of weight gain, higher-than-normal insulin levels is another key feature of PCOS. Insulin is a hormone your pancreas produces to keep blood sugar levels within a normal range. Women with PCOS don’t respond as well to insulin, causing the pancreas to produce higher amounts to get the job done. The problem is that excess insulin can increase androgen production, contributing to PCOS symptoms. In women with PCOS, it’s difficult to decipher which problem came first. As with weight loss, we know that lowering insulin levels does an excellent job at reigning in PCOS symptoms.
Insulin dysregulation and blood sugar imbalance go hand-in-hand. That’s why we typically find that women with PCOS have elevated blood sugar, sometimes with bouts of hypoglycemia – too little blood sugar. Because rising blood sugar levels contribute to other health problems, we often recommend medicine to increase insulin sensitivity and bring blood sugar levels within a healthy range.
Facial growth in women is common, but excess facial growth is a classic sign that your body may be making too much androgen hormones. Most women with PCOS experience excess hair growth, especially on their face. Lowering androgen levels may improve hirsutism – the medical term for male pattern hair growth in women, but usually women with PCOS continue to struggle with facial hair growth even with treatment. Permanent hair removal can eliminate unwanted facial hair.
Excess androgens can make your periods irregular. Women with PCOS commonly experience irregular periods. You may skip a period or notice that your period arrives too early. It is one of the most common signs of PCOS. Women who may not have other apparent symptoms tend to have period irregularity, including having heavier or lighter-than-normal periods.
Many women with PCOS have trouble getting pregnant. PCOS can affect your fertility in various ways. In many cases, hormonal imbalance prevents the ovaries from developing and releasing a mature egg, interfering with ovulation. Without ovulation, pregnancy cannot occur. Even if ovulation occurs, high testosterone may prevent a mature egg from nestling into the womb in a process known as implantation.
For these reasons, it’s often difficult for women with PCOS to become pregnant. However, fertility treatments can improve your chances of becoming pregnant. Many women with PCOS have healthy pregnancies and deliveries.
Women with PCOS often go undiagnosed. If you notice signs and symptoms, like problems with your period, weight gain, or acne, it’s wise to see a doctor. Left untreated, PCOS increases your risk for various health problems, including diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
The team at Women’s Health Services help women manage PCOS and women who are having trouble getting pregnant achieve their goal of starting or expanding their family. We invite you to learn more about managing your PCOS symptoms through a strong partnership with a top-quality obstetrician and gynecologist. To schedule a consultation, call our Arlington, Texas office at 817-277-9415.