Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine system disorders among women of reproductive age. In a normal monthly cycle, follicles (immature eggs) develop and one egg is released into the fallopian tube during ovulation. In women with PCOS, the hormones needed for an egg to fully mature are not present, preventing ovulation from occurring and causing cysts to form on the ovaries.
Infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excessive hair growth, acne, and obesity can all occur in women with PCOS. In adolescents, infrequent or absent menstruation may raise suspicion for the condition. Not all women with PCOS have difficulty becoming pregnant. For those that do experience difficulty, infrequent ovulation is a common cause.
Though the exact cause of polycystic ovary syndrome is unknown, early diagnosis and treatment, along with weight loss may reduce the risk of long-term complications (endometrial cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular risks, lipid abnormalities, sleep apnea).
The ovulation-inducing oral medications clomiphene citrate and letrozole are the principal treatments used to promote ovulation.
For women not responsive to these medications, even with diet and lifestyle modification, there are additional treatment options available such as stimulating the ovaries to produce eggs with follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) injections followed by intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF).
According to the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Foundation, 5-10% of women of childbearing age are affected by PCOS, with less than 50% of women diagnosed. This leaves millions of women undiagnosed. PCOS is responsible for 70% of infertility issues in women who have difficulty ovulating.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome, originally known as Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, was named after American gynecologists Irving F. Stein, Sr. and Michael L. Leventhal who first described the condition in 1935. The symptoms, of what is now known as PCOS, were first described in a publication in Italy in 1721.