Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder thought to be caused by an excess of androgens. Although there is no known cure for the condition, birth control can help manage its symptoms.
What is PCOS?
PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is a hormonal condition common among women in their reproductive age. The name polycystic ovary syndrome describes the small cysts, or fluid-filled sacs, that may develop in the ovaries.
Although the exact cause is not known, it is thought that an elevated level of androgens (also known as “male hormones”) may play a role. Women with PCOS often do not produce enough of the hormones needed for ovulation. When ovulation doesn’t happen, the ovaries can develop many small cysts. These cysts produce androgens, which cause many of the symptoms associated with PCOS. Additionally, women with a family history of PCOS will be more likely to develop the condition.
Symptoms of PCOS
PCOS can develop at any age after puberty. Symptoms of PCOS vary, but three key signs include:
- Painful or irregular periods. Infrequent, irregular or painful periods are one of the most common signs of PCOS. For example, you might have fewer than nine periods a year, more than 35 days between periods and abnormally heavy periods.
- Excess androgen. Elevated levels of male hormones can cause physical symptoms such as excess facial and body hair (also called hirsutism), severe acne and male-pattern baldness.
- Polycystic ovaries. An examination by a physician may find ovaries that are enlarged and contain follicles surrounding the eggs. This can hinder the ovaries’ regular function, resulting in infertility and difficulty conceiving.
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, consider seeing a physician to identify any underlying causes of your symptoms.
How can hormonal birth control help?
There is currently no known cure for PCOS. However, there are ways to manage its symptoms. A common medication used for PCOS management is combination birth control pills. The hormones in birth control––specifically estrogen and progestin––can help decrease androgen production. This will address any androgen-related symptoms you may experience, such as hirsutism and acne. Additionally, hormonal contraceptives can make your periods lighter, less painful, and more predictable, as well as decrease your risk of endometrial cancer.
PCOS affects millions of women around the world, and is a condition that can be managed with the appropriate resources. If you are looking for more information on PCOS resources, you can book a teleconsultation with our team of doctors at any time. We also provide a comprehensive free mobile app where you can track your menstrual cycle and symptoms, talk to medical professionals to learn more about your menstrual menstrual and learn from other women’s experiences with PCOS on the in-app community forum.