Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is described as a syndrome rather than a disease because it shows up as a group of signs and symptoms that can occur in any combination. Here are some of the symptoms of PCOS:

  • Abnormal menstrual cycle: When you have PCOS, your periods may be heavier, lighter, irregular, or absent altogether. However, you may have completely normal periods and still have PCOS.

  • Weight gain: In women with PCOS, weight gain is mostly due to high levels of insulin circulating in the blood. Cells normally absorb glucose with the help of insulin. When cells don’t respond normally to insulin, your body produces even more insulin, to “force” the cells into responding. When insulin levels rise, other hormonal changes can lead to increased appetite and decreased fat burning, which lead to weight gain.

  • Acne and oily skin: Women with PCOS tend to have higher levels of androgens (male hormones), which cause acne and increased skin oiliness.

  • Excess hair growth: Your body may be hairier in certain places (such as your chest, thighs, face, and back), a side effect of androgens.

  • Hair loss: The hair on your head may thin if you have PCOS, another side effect of higher androgen levels.

  • Sleep problems and fatigue or exhaustion: These symptoms can be due to fluctuating hormone levels and increased anxiety.

  • Depression, anxiety, irritability, and mood swings: These symptoms are probably due to disrupted hormone levels.

  • Fertility problems: The hormonal imbalances that come with PCOS can disrupt ovulation.

  • Metabolic syndrome: Also known as syndrome X, metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms, including insulin resistance (where insulin produced by the body doesn’t work efficiently), high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Gaynor Bussell, RD, is a registered dietitian, consultant, nutritionist, and a member of the Health Professions Council and the Nutrition Society in the United Kingdom. She has specialized in women's health nutrition for over twenty years.

Sharon Perkins, RN, was a nurse coordinator for in vitro fertilization at the Cooper In Vitro Center for Hormonal Disorders. She is coauthor of Infertility For Dummies.

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