What problems can polycystic ovarian syndrome cause?

Dr. Jessica A. Shepherd, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Health risks associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) include an increased risk for all the conditions associated with obesity. In this video, OBGYN specialist Jessica Shepherd, MD, discusses these risks and how infertility is connected.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) has a genetic component and can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes if left untreated. There is also a risk for endometrial disease, including endometrial polyps or even hyperplasia or cancer if left untreated for many years.

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In its most severe form, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is characterized by overproduction of the male hormone testosterone, which can cause male-pattern hair growth, acne or hair loss, and menstrual abnormalities related to the failure to ovulate. But Susan Davis, MD, a UCLA endocrinologist, notes that 60-80 percent of women with PCOS—and 95 percent of obese PCOS women—also have resistance to the action of insulin, putting them at increased risk for abnormal glucose utilization, type 2 diabetes and premature cardiovascular disease. “PCOS can adversely affect the health of a woman by increasing her risk for numerous problems, including infertility, obstetrical complications, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mood disorders,” Dr. Davis says.

Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can be at an increased risk for developing several other conditions. Irregular menstrual periods and the absence of ovulation cause women to produce estrogen, but not progesterone. Without progesterone, which causes the endometrium to shed each month as a menstrual period, the endometrium may grow too much and undergo cell changes. This is a pre-cancerous condition called endometrial hyperplasia. If the thickened endometrium is not treated, over a long period of time it may turn into endometrial cancer. PCOS also is linked to other diseases that occur later in life, such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), high blood pressure and heart disease.

Depression or mood swings also are common in women with PCOS. Although more research is needed to find out about this link, there are studies linking depression to diabetes. Therefore, in PCOS, depression may be related to insulin resistance. It also could be a result of the hormonal imbalances and the cosmetic symptoms of the condition. Acne, hair loss and other symptoms of PCOS can lead to poor self-esteem. Infertility and miscarriages also can be very stressful. Medications that restore the balance to hormone levels or antidepressants can help these feelings.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.