PCOS, which stands for polycystic ovary syndrome, is a common condition in teenage girls and women. PCOS is when you have a hormone imbalance. In addition to estrogen (the main female hormone), women also make small amounts of testosterone (the main male hormone). In PCOS, girls and women make a little extra testosterone.
Doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes PCOS. For most women, it’s probably a combination of factors, including the genes you inherit from your family. For example, women with PCOS are more likely to have a mother or sister with PCOS.
The signs and symptoms include having:
Teens and women with PCOS also are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or high cholesterol.
Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you about your health, your medicines, and your menstrual cycle. The doctor will also want to know whether there’s a family history of PCOS (in your mother, an aunt, or a sister). In a physical exam, your doctor will check your blood pressure, your height, and your weight. Your doctor will also look at hair growth on your body and will check for patches of darkened skin.
Your doctor might order blood tests to check hormone levels, blood glucose (sugar), or cholesterol. Sometimes, doctors might do a pelvic exam or order an ultrasound (imaging) test of the ovaries and uterus. This kind of test can show whether you have ovarian cysts, which are fluid-filled bubbles in or on the ovaries. Your doctor will make sure there are no other causes of irregular periods or altered hormone levels.
Treatments include one or more of the following:
PCOS may or may not affect whether you can have a baby. When the time comes, your doctor can help you with fertility problems.
Seeing a doctor who knows about PCOS is the first step. Choose a doctor who specializes in hormone problems (an endocrinologist) or a doctor who specializes in women’s health (a gynecologist or a family doctor). Remember that the sooner you get help for your PCOS, the sooner you could lower your risk for related health problems such as diabetes.
Your doctor can help you find ways to feel better about your appearance. For example, you can ask your doctor about the best way to remove unwanted facial hair. If you feel worried or depressed, ask your parents or your doctor where to go for counseling. You can also go to a support group to talk with others who have PCOS. It’s braver to get counseling than to suffer in silence.
The Hormone Health Network is the public education affiliate of the Endocrine Society dedicated to helping both patients and doctors find information on the prevention, treatment and cure of hormone-related conditions.
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