What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine system disorder among women of reproductive age. PCOS can affect 5-10% of women. Women with PCOS may have enlarged ovaries that contain multiple, small cysts located in each ovary. Infrequent or prolonged menstruation, unusual excess hair growth, acne, and obesity can all occur in women with PCOS. In adolescents, infrequent or absent menstrual periods may raise concern for this condition. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. However, early diagnosis and treatment as well as weight loss may reduce the risk of long-term complications.

PCOS has many signs and symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of PCOS often begin soon after a woman first begins having periods. In some cases, PCOS might develop later during the reproductive years. For example, a substantial weight gain can affect or cause the signs and symptoms of PCOS to become worse. Every woman may be affected differently. Women with PCOS can present 2 of 3 symptoms:

  • Irregular periods – Menstrual gaps longer than 35 days; fewer than eight menstrual cycles a year; failure to menstruate for four months or more; and prolonged periods that may be sparse or heavy.
  • High testosterone levels – Elevated levels of androgens (male hormones) may result in physical signs, such as excess facial and body hair, acne, and male-pattern baldness.
  • Polycystic Ovaries – Enlarged ovaries containing numerous small cysts, which surround the eggs.

The diagnosis of PCOS is made when you have two of the three above criteria.

Potential Causes

What causes PCOS is unknown, but these factors could contribute to the condition:

  • Excess Insulin – If you are a woman experiencing insulin resistance, your pancreas has to secrete more insulin in order to make glucose available to cells. This creates excess insulin, which can affect the ovaries by increasing androgen production. This may interfere with the ovaries’ ability to ovulate.
  • Low-grade inflammation – This type of inflammation stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens.
  • Heredity –If someone in your family has this condition, there is a greater chance of you having it, too.


The following conditions may become more likely if you have PCOS, especially if obesity is a factor:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • High Blood pressure
  • Infertility
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Unusual uterine bleeding
  • Endometrial Cancer
  • Gestational Diabetes
  • Inflammation of the liver

Treatment: Lifestyle Changes

Often weight reduction and different medications can help to alleviate the symptoms of PCOS. Weight reduction should be taken seriously by making small changes to your every day routine. Keeping your weight in check, considering dietary changes, and being active can help offset the effects of PCOS. Obesity makes insulin resistance worse. Weight loss can reduce both insulin and androgen levels and may restore ovulation.

Losing weight by reducing how many calories you eat each day may help with PCOS, especially if you’re overweight. Using smaller plates and reducing portion sizes are great ways to help with weight loss too. You can ask your doctor to recommend a weight – loss program, and meet regularly with a dietician to help reach your goals. You may want to consider a low-carbohydrate diet if you have PCOS, especially if your doctor recommends it.

When you are eating choose complex carbohydrates, which are high in fiber. The more fiber in your food, the more slowly you will digest it, causing your blood sugar levels to rise slowly instead of rapidly. High-fiber carbohydrates to include in your diet are whole-grain breads and cereals, whole-wheat pasta, barley, brown rice, and beans. Limit unhealthy carbohydrates such as soda, cake, candy, ice cream, cookies and doughnuts.

Most importantly you need to be active. Exercise helps lower blood sugar levels. Increasing your daily activity and participating in exercise programs may treat or even prevent insulin resistance and help you keep your weight under control. Great ways to stay active are walking, running, biking and joining great exercise classes, like kicking boxing or spin class. Being active doesn’t have to be extreme, just make sure you’re moving your body a little bit more than you were before.

If you have signs and symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome and are experiencing complications, contact NYU Langone Reproductive Specialists of New York today. Our specialists are ready to help you get this condition under control!