Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a disorder that results in abnormal hormone levels in a woman. In a normal ovary, a single egg develops and is released during ovulation each month. A polycystic ovary will have many eggs that are never released.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome often begins with puberty and worsens with time. The cause of PCOS has not yet been completely identified. The symptoms of PCOS are related to an excess of the hormone androgen. This hormone can cause male features such as facial hair and male-pattern baldness in women. Polycystic ovaries may be normal in size, or they may be enlarged, with smooth, thick coverings.
The exact cause of PCOS is not clear. Some of the possible causes include:
The risk of PCOS increases in women who also have one of these conditions:
The symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome include:
The woman may have several ovarian cysts, or fluid-filled sacs. Small ovarian cysts usually don't produce symptoms. Large cysts or multiple cysts may cause:
Ovarian cysts may sometimes rupture, although this is rare. They may also start to twist. This can cause sudden abdominal pain, bloating, and stiffness.
Diagnosis of PCOS begins with a medical history and physical exam. A pelvic exam may reveal enlarged ovaries. Ovarian cysts may be detected using ultrasound.
Laparoscopy, or the placement of a scope through a small incision in the abdomen, can be used to look directly at the ovaries. A biopsy of the ovary may be performed. This involves taking a small sample of ovarian tissue to be checked in a laboratory. Blood and urine tests may be used to check hormone levels.
There is no known way to prevent polycystic ovarian syndrome. A woman may be able to lower her risk factors with good weight management. It's also important to seek effective treatment for breast cancer or high blood pressure.
The long-term effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome depend on the woman's condition and her response to treatment, but they may include:
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is not contagious and poses no risk to others.
There are many ways to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome, depending on a woman's symptoms. Treatment can include:
Newer treatments focus on lowering insulin levels in the blood. This may help reduce the production of male hormones. It may also lessen the symptoms of PCOS. Metformin is one medicine that has been used for this.
Surgery may cause bleeding, infection, and allergic reaction to anesthesia. Medicine side effects will vary, but they include allergic reactions.
The symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome can often be managed over time with proper treatment.
A woman's healthcare provider will monitor her condition with regular pelvic exams and other tests. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.
Author:Barbara Mallari, RN, BSN, PHN
Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
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Professional Guide to Diseases, 6th Edition, 1998, Holmes, et al.
Textbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing, 9th Edition, 2000, Smeltzer, et al.