Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, otherwise known as PCOS, is an endocrine disorder in women that can cause fertility problems, and problems related to blood sugar and heart health. It is so common, in fact, that it is the leading cause of infertility and affects 10% of the world’s female population. It is a condition you’re born with. You can’t catch it from a friend or develop it later in life. You either have it or you don’t.
At it’s most basic level, this is what is happening in the ovaries: For women with normal, regular periods, their ovaries are able to produce fully mature eggs, one of which is released into the fallopian tubes in anticipation of fertilization and the cysts where the other mature eggs are contained dissolve back into the body and her period begins. For a woman with PCOS, her eggs don’t fully mature and therefore don’t get released into the fallopian tube. The follicles encasing the developing eggs also don’t fully dissolve after the cycle has ended, leaving cysts behind in the ovaries. This is where the name Polycystic Ovary Syndrome comes from. This also explains why infertility is often a symptom for women with PCOS.
A woman’s reproductive cycle is kicked off and controlled every step of the way by hormones. This explains why diabetes and heart disease —two other hormone-related diseases—are also common complication complications for women with PCOS.
Other symptoms of PCOS include excessive hair growth on the body, hair thinning, weight gain or obesity, acne, sleep apnea and depression, and PCOS also increases a woman’s risk of miscarriages, post-partum depression, diabetes, and certain kinds of cancer.
No one knows the exact cause of PCOS and there is no cure, but researchers are constantly making new progress that gets us closer to answering a lot of our questions about how PCOS functions and how it impacts the rest of our body processes. What we do know is that because it is something you’re born with, it impacts your life from puberty well into menopause.