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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, also known as PCOS, is a common hormone condition which affects about 1 in 5 women in the UK but do you know the signs and symptoms?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, also known as PCOS, is a common hormone condition which affects about 1 in 5 women in the UK (1).
PCOS affects a woman’s ovaries, the reproductive organs that are responsible for protecting all the eggs that a woman is born with, and for releasing them into the fallopian tube for fertilisation.Your ovaries are also responsible for producing oestrogen and progesterone, the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle.
Normally, a woman’s ovaries produce an egg each month, but with polycystic ovaries, an imbalance in the reproductive hormones that govern ovulation, this process can be disrupted. During the monthly cycle FSH stimulates the ovary to produce a follicle – a sac to contain an egg, and then LH triggers the ovary to release a mature egg.
In a woman with PCOS, the ovaries and ovulation process are affected. Its three main features are:
In polycystic ovaries, several small, fluid-filled sacs grow inside of the ovaries. These small sacs contain a number of harmless follicles that are up to 8mm in size. Each one of the follicles contains an immature egg which never matures enough to activate ovulation. The absence of ovulation changes the levels of oestrogen, progesterone, FSH and LH, making them lower than usual, while male hormone levels are higher than usual.
The exact cause of PCOS remains a mystery, however it often runs in families (2). It is also believed that an increase of male hormones prevents the ovaries from producing hormones and releasing eggs normally.
Factors which are thought to play a role in PCOS include:
The symptoms of PCOS can vary from person to person, with many women having very few signs, which can lead to some being unaware that they have PCOS. A study found that up to 70% of women with PCOS haven’t been diagnosed (5).
If symptoms are visible, women usually start to notice them around their first period, whilst others may only uncover they have PCOS after they have gained a lot of weight or have had trouble trying to get pregnant.
Common symptoms include:
PCOS has also been found to increase a woman’s risk of developing health problems in later life, such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
Higher levels of androgen can impact your overall health in a variety of ways:
As women with PCOS do not ovulate regularly or not at all, the eggs that are needed to become pregnant are not released making it difficult to become pregnant.
A study found that women who are obese with PCOS are 5 to 10 times more likely to develop sleep apnoea than those who don’t have PCOS (6). The condition causes repeated pauses in breathing during the night, which can affect sleep.
Due to the hormonal changes and the difficulties PCOS presents such as unwanted hair and infertility, women can experience high levels of depression and anxiety (7).
Many women express that getting a diagnosis for PCOS can be a struggle as there is no single test to identify whether you have it.
Under the NHS guidelines, doctors should confirm that a woman has two or more of the following factors;
Usually your doctor will send you to have an ultrasound scan and a blood test. The ultrasound scan uses sound waves to look for abnormal follicles and other problems with your ovaries and uterus.The blood test will check whether your male hormone levels are high than normal.
According to the NHS there is no cure for PCOS, yet the symptoms can be managed by making lifestyle changes or taking medication (8).
If you are experiencing symptoms such as irregular periods, acne, excess hair or are having difficulty getting pregnant and want to check whether this could be due to polycystic ovary syndrome, a simple blood test is a good place to start. Our simple Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Check provides a comprehensive check of your hormones including key male hormones such as testosterone, which can be raised in women with PCOS.
Our Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Check Advanced also checks your cholesterol and diabetes status to assess whether you are at higher risk of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Until the end of October 2019 our Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Check Advanced is reduced to just £59, from £79.