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Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) results from an imbalance in the hormones that regulate your normal menstrual cycle. In PCOS, the ovary fails to develop and release a single egg each month. This failure leads to the often-seen "cystic" appearance of the ovaries (many small fluid filled sacs within the ovary). The cause of PCOS is unknown. Investigation is ongoing about the possibility of a genetic (inherited) cause. It is the most common endocrine disturbance in women of reproductive age, affecting 5 percent to 10 percent of women in this age group.

Obesity and PCOS

50 percent of women with PCOS are obese. The obesity associated with PCOS is characterized by an increased waist measurement (over 35 inches). It is referred to as android obesity (apple shaped) as opposed to truncal obesity (pear shaped). The cause of PCOS obesity has not been clearly identified although there appears to be a synergistic, harmful effect on glucose tolerance in women with PCOS as noted by the increased incidence of glucose intolerance and diabetes in obese women.

Cardiovascular Health Risks for Women with PCOS

Certain women with PCOS are at greater risk for developing diabetes (considered a heart disease equivalent) and cardiovascular disease. This risk is increased if you are overweight. As many as 40 percent to 50 percent of young, obese women with PCOS and eight to 10 percent of lean women with the disorder have either impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes as compared with five percent of age matched controls in the general population.

What if you have an impaired glucose tolerance?

If you have impaired glucose intolerance (blood sugar greater than 100 mg/dl) you are at increased risk for developing diabetes. You will need to start changing your eating habits and reduce your weight if you are overweight. If you develop diabetes you may need to start taking medications to control your blood sugar.

For further information:

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association 

American Society for Reproductive Medicine