Typical symptoms include:
The cause of PCOS is not yet known. However, new research suggests it may be linked to problems with insulin. The body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin, so higher and higher levels are produced in order to get the same effect. This over-stimulates the ovaries, causing high levels of the male-type hormones (androgens) to be produced. It may also lead to diabetes.
Currently, women with PCOS are usually given treatments relevant to their particular symptoms. These include:
- irregular periods
- pain from cysts on the ovaries
- high blood pressure
- central obesity (ie, putting on weight around your middle)
- male-pattern baldness
- hirsutism (excessive body hair)
The most suitable treatments for PCOS may be ones that specifically address the problem with insulin that’s thought to cause the problem.
Drugs that increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, such as metformin (used for years to treat diabetes), are showing great promise in early studies. This sort of treatment may be able to help all the symptoms of PCOS.
This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Trisha Macnair in August 2005.
First published in November 1997.
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- Menstrual disturbance – oral contraceptives. Regulate periods, but can make insulin problems worse.
- Fertility problems – clomiphene; ovarian diathermy or laser treatment; assisted conception techniques (eg, IVF).
- Hirsutism and acne – ‘anti-androgen’ drugs; cyproterone acetate and ethinyloestradiol; spironolactone.
- Menstrual disturbance, metabolic problems and risk of coronary heart disease – weight loss, although this is often difficult for those with PCOS.