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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

The underlying cause of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an overproduction or a hypersensitivity to androgens in women.

Androgens are hormones, such as testosterone, that both men and women produce. Women normally produce small amounts of androgens from their ovaries and adrenal glands.

Even slight increases in androgen levels can cause problems for women. These may include changes in the menstrual cycle, cysts in the ovaries, trouble getting pregnant and other health problems.

PCOS: what you should know

  • Symptoms of PCOS vary from woman to woman. The following are the most common:
    • Irregular periods
    • Extra hair growth on the chest, face, abdomen and back
    • Hair thinning on the scalp
    • Acne on the face, back or both
  • PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in women. This is because many women with PCOS do not ovulate regularly.
  • Insulin is a hormone that helps the body process sugar. Women with PCOS often develop insulin resistance. Over time, this may result in a higher risk of diabetes in women with PCOS.
  • Some women with PCOS may also have a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, endometrial cancer and other conditions. The risk of these problems is higher in women with PCOS who are also overweight or obese.
  • Some women with PCOS, especially if they are obese, may have a higher risk for certain problems during pregnancy:

How can I get help for PCOS?

See a doctor if you have any of the common symptoms of PCOS. Medicines are available to help regulate your period, help with ovulation and control the skin and hair symptoms of PCOS.

To find out if you have PCOS, your doctor should perform the following:

  • Medical history to learn about your menstrual history, your weight history and how your symptoms have progressed.
  • Physical examination to look for signs of extra androgens and insulin. This may also include a pelvic exam or pelvic ultrasound.
  • Blood tests to measure your androgen levels and assess your diabetes risk.

Care for PCOS at Rush

At Rush, your doctor will work with you to determine your course of treatment. Your treatment will depend on your symptoms and whether you want to have children. It may include one or more of the following:

  • Lifestyle changes to promote weight loss — such as eating a healthier diet and exercising. Weight loss may also help control PCOS symptoms and lower your risk of developing other conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.
  • Birth control pills or other hormonal contraceptives, which can regulate your menstrual periods and fight symptoms such as unwanted hair growth.
  • Other medications such as anti-testosterone medications, depending on how bothersome your symptoms are and whether you are trying to get pregnant.
  • Fertility treatments, which may include medications to regulate your cycles or help you ovulate.
  • Psychological counseling or medication to treat anxiety or depression, which are commonly associated with PCOS.
  • Medications to treat other symptoms or conditions associated with PCOS, such as diabetes, thyroid disease or other endocrine problems.

Why choose Rush for PCOS care

  • Doctors at Rush provide comprehensive care for women with PCOS. This includes care for all the gynecologic, metabolic, skin-related and psychological symptoms of the condition.
  • For women with PCOS who are having trouble getting pregnant, doctors at Rush offer a full range of fertility treatments. This includes medications to help women ovulate normally, as well as in vitro fertilization.
  • At Rush, you’ll find an experienced team of maternal-fetal medicine doctors who focus exclusively on caring for women with PCOS and other conditions that can make pregnancies more complex.

Departments and programs that treat this condition