What Is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?

What Causes PCOS?

Although it is not exactly clear what causes PCOS, it is believed that several factors may play a role, including increased levels of androgens, insulin resistance, and an irregular menstrual cycle. It's not entirely clear which of these factors is the proverbial chicken and which are the eggs, since all of these problems are interrelated.
One of the main underlying problems in women with PCOS is a hormonal imbalance. The ovaries in women with this condition tend to make more androgens (male hormones) than normal. An increase in these male hormone levels can prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulating).
The high androgen levels are also what cause some women with PCOS to have unwanted hair growth and acne. PCOS can cause hormonal issues that result in irregular menstrual periods, which can cause some women to have infertility problems.
Insulin is also thought to be a main contributor to PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that controls the change of sugar, starches, and other foods into energy for the body to use or store. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells in the body no longer respond well to the effects of insulin. As a result, the body needs to produce more and more in order to control blood sugars. The high levels of insulin cause your appetite to increase and also cause hormonal imbalances.
Excess insulin also increases production of androgen hormones, which can lead to:
  • Acne
  • Excessive hair growth
  • Weight gain
  • Problems with ovulation.
Eventually, if the pancreas can't produce enough insulin, the levels of glucose in the blood begin to rise, which can lead to diabetes.
Many experts also believe that genetics is also linked to PCOS. Women who have this condition are more likely to have a mother or sister who has it as well.
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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