Why you should be worried about PCOS

POLYCYSTIC Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of female infertility affecting millions of women worldwide. And this lifelong health condition continues far beyond the child-bearing years.

Women with PCOS are often insulin resistant; their bodies can make insulin but can't use it effectively, increasing their risk for type 2 diabetes. They also have higher levels of androgens (male hormones that females also have), which can stop eggs from being released (ovulation) and cause irregular periods, acne, thinning scalp hair, and excess hair growth on the face and body.

Women with PCOS can also develop serious health problems, especially if they are overweight.

Here are some other PCOS worries reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• Diabetes — more than half of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by age 40

• Gestational diabetes (diabetes when pregnant) — this puts the pregnancy and baby at risk and can lead to type 2 diabetes later in life for both mother and child

• Heart disease — women with PCOS are at higher risk, and the risk increases with age

• High blood pressure — this can damage the heart, brain, and kidneys

• High LDL ("bad") cholesterol and low HDL ("good") cholesterol — increasing the risk for heart disease

• Sleep apnoea — a disorder that causes breathing to stop during sleep and raises the risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes

• Stroke— plaque (cholesterol and white blood cells) clogging blood vessels can lead to blood clots that in turn can cause a stroke

•PCOS is also linked to depression and anxiety, though the connection is not fully understood.

Do you have PCOS?

Sometimes symptoms are clear and sometimes they're less obvious. You may visit a dermatologist for acne, hair growth, or darkening of the skin in body creases and folds such as the back of the neck (acanthosis nigricans); a gynaecologist for irregular monthly periods; and your family doctor for weight gain, not realising these symptoms are all part of PCOS. Some women will have just one symptom; others will have them all. Women of every race and ethnicity can have PCOS.

It's common for women to find out they have PCOS when they have trouble getting pregnant, but it often begins soon after the first menstrual period, as young as age 11 or 12. It can also develop in the 20s or 30s.

To determine if you have PCOS your doctor will check that you have at least two of these three symptoms:

• Irregular periods or no periods, caused from lack of ovulation

• Higher than normal levels of male hormones that may result in excess hair on the face and body, acne, or thinning scalp hair

• Multiple small cysts on the ovaries: Just having ovarian cysts isn't enough for a diagnosis. Lots of women without PCOS have cysts on their ovaries and lots of women with PCOS don't have cysts.

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