Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is a serious hormonal imbalance that has both uncomfortable and sometimes serious complications for those who suffer from it. Weight gain, abnormal hair growth, thinning hair, ovarian cysts and irregular periods may all stem from PCOS. And for five million females in their child-bearing years, PCOS is the root of their infertility.
As one of the leading causes of infertility, the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, though doctors believe there are several contributing factors. Many women diagnosed with PCOS are overweight, insulin resistant or suffer from low-grade inflammation, while others have a genetic link.
Let’s take a look at the hormones related to PCOS and how they affect your fertility and quality of life.
How PCOS Affects Ovulation
For the majority of women, ovulation occurs in the middle of the menstrual cycle, when the ovary releases an egg that travels through the fallopian tube. A fertilized egg attaches and grows in the uterus, while an unfertilized egg sheds along with your uterine lining each month.
Ovulation is possible because of a specific hormonal “dance” that begins in your brain. Your hypothalamus (a part of your brain) releases a hormone that causes your pituitary gland (located in your brain) to secrete two hormones that mature and encourage your ovaries to release the egg. After you ovulate, your body releases another hormone to prepare the uterus for a fertilized egg.
This dance must be precise and depends on a balance of hormones. Women with PCOS produce a higher than normal amount of male hormones, androgens, that tend to interrupt that balance, creating uncomfortable side effects including an interruption in ovulation.
Common PCOS Symptoms
In addition to higher than normal androgen production, the most common symptoms of PCOS are:
- Missed, irregular or very light periods
- Very heavy periods due to uterine lining buildup from an interrupted cycle
- Excess body hair on chest, back, stomach and face (an androgen-related condition called hirsutism)
- Excess abdominal weight or weight gain
- Oily skin prone to acne
- Skin tags in armpits or on neck
- Dark patches of skin on neck, under breasts and in armpits
- Hair thinning or male pattern baldness
- Multiple ovarian cysts
PCOS can’t be diagnosed by symptoms alone, since any one symptom might be related to something else. Your doctor will need to perform some diagnostic tests to verify you have PCOS, including:
- Ultrasound to check the size of your ovaries and confirm the presence of cysts
- Blood tests to check your hormone, blood glucose and possibly your cholesterol levels. Your doctor will also look specifically for an increase in androgen levels
Conditions Related to PCOS Hormonal Imbalances
Androgen overload and the interruption in normal ovulation causes fluid-filled sacs, or cysts, to develop on your ovaries. The imbalance of hormones created by this condition also results in chronic low-grade inflammation that may initially cause body aches and/or anxiety and eventually damage your blood vessels and heart. PCOS can also lead to high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. Below are several chronic conditions caused by PCOS hormonal imbalance.
Up to 80 percent of women diagnosed with PCOS are overweight or obese, leading to increased glucose levels, high blood pressure and cholesterol issues. Doctors identify this set of symptoms as metabolic syndrome which may have serious complications including heart damage, diabetes and stroke.
During a normal period with an unfertilized egg, the uterine lining sheds. When your hormones are imbalanced with an excess of androgens, the signals from your brain to your uterus get confused. This may result in missed periods and a buildup of your uterine lining, which can put you at risk for endometrial cancer.
Most people have heard of sleep apnea, a condition in which a pause in breathing interrupts sleep and can cause life-threatening conditions. The association between sleep apnea and obese females with PCOS is far greater than it is for those obese women who do not have PCOS.
Females with PCOS imbalanced hormones are at a greater risk for depression. This is certainly related to the hormonal effects on the psyche, but weight gain and abnormal hair growth can also be contributing factors.If you suspect PCOS is causing your depression, speak to your doctor immediately.
Because of the hormonal imbalance caused by PCOS, ovulation is irregular. Without ovulation, there’s no chance for an egg to become fertilized.
Reach Out to RISE Today
If you’re trying to conceive without success and you suspect you may have PCOS, please contact Rise Fertility today. We can help you manage your symptoms, control your PCOS and realize your dream of growing your family.
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