Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): What You Need to Know

Weight gain, irregular periods, unwanted hair growth, fatigue, acne…these are just a few of the troubling symptoms women living with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can experience. PCOS is a genetic, hormone, metabolic, and reproductive disorder that is linked to other health concerns including type 2 diabetes, liver & cardiovascular disease, severe anxiety and depression, and more. It’s estimated that 1-in-10 women of childbearing age are affected by PCOS, but nearly 50% of those affected go undiagnosed.

Living with PCOS can feel isolating and stressful, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone! Here, we’ll explore what we know about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of PCOS.

What is PCOS?

First, let’s dig into the science to understand what’s happening inside the body to cause PCOS. While the root causes of PCOS aren’t fully understood, research shows that, in essence, PCOS is caused by an imbalance of hormones. Those hormones can affect insulin resistance and produce higher than normal amounts of male hormones like androgen or testosterone. This imbalance also causes improper signals to the ovaries. The ovaries are responsible for releasing the egg as a part of a normal menstrual cycle, but this hormone imbalance can disrupt normal function leading to irregular or skipped periods and fluid-filled sacs or cysts in the ovaries. This is where the term “polycystic” comes from. These complications often result in obstacles with fertility for those with PCOS.

How is PCOS Diagnosed?

Since the 1700s, scientists have been trying to better understand the causes of this condition. (That’s right, we’ve been trying to understand PCOS for more than 300 years!) While research continues today, so much is still unknown about this complex condition. Importantly, strides have been made in the recognition and diagnosis of symptoms.

There is no simple test for PCOS, so an open, honest, ongoing dialogue with your doctor is critical toward getting the help you need. Your provider will likely start with a review of your family history and discussion of your menstrual cycles and overall health and weight changes. From there, depending on your unique symptoms and history, a physical examination may be recommended to identify outward manifestations of the condition (more on that below.)  In some cases, more in-depth examinations including a blood test, ultrasound, or pelvic exam may be suggested.

If your provider assigns a diagnosis of PCOS, ongoing tests will likely be prescribed to evaluate the progression of the condition and to monitor your symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of PCOS?

PCOS symptoms seem to manifest around the time of a woman’s first menstrual cycle, and frequently appear in the following ways:


While this list covers the most frequently encountered symptoms, PCOS affects each woman uniquely. That’s why it is so important to start a conversation with your provider. Together, you can create a plan to help manage your unique symptoms and find a way to live healthier with PCOS.

Getting Help with PCOS

Unfortunately, there is no simple cure for PCOS. Getting the help you need starts with education. If you’re reading this, you’re already on the right path! Early recognition of symptoms and diagnosis is key to finding relief sooner. While PCOS will manifest differently for each woman affected, approaches to treatment will include a combination of:

What’s most important is that you do seek help for any questions or concerns you have about PCOS. The sooner the dialog starts, the sooner you can find relief.

PCOS and Infertility

Infertility is one of the most common side effects of PCOS and is frequently at the core of diagnosis. However, getting pregnant with PCOS is possible! Some women are able to conceive naturally with PCOS and some may need the help of treatments ranging from ovulation induction and intrauterine insemination (IUI) to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

For those struggling with fertility issues relating to PCOS, our partners at South Jersey Fertility Center and the Fertility Institute of NJ & NY provide compassionate, expert care that has helped thousands achieve their parenthood goals.

Bottom Line

Living with PCOS can feel isolating, frustrating, stressful…all of the above! If you’re feeling this way, remember you’re not alone. The first step to finding relief is having an open, ongoing dialogue with your Axia Women’s Health provider. In working with your provider, you can partner to gain control over PCOS and feel your best.

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