Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

J Midwifery Womens Health. 2010;55(5):477-478. 

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How Does PCOS Affect My Body?

PCOS got its name because many women with PCOS have changes in their ovaries that look like small cysts (see Figure 1 on the reverse side of this handout). The real problem with PCOS is that it changes how your body reacts to some hormones, like insulin. The body uses insulin to turn food, especially sugar, into energy. Women who have PCOS can find it harder to use insulin well. This causes more insulin to be made. High levels of insulin cause more androgens (male hormones) to be made in a woman's body. All women have some androgens. Women with higher levels of androgens can show some male signs like acne or extra hair on the face or body.

Figure 1.

Polycystic ovary syndrome. A polycystic ovary has many small changes that look like small cysts. Reprinted from the Office on Women's Health, US Department of Health and Human Services.

Another sign of PCOS is weight gain, especially around the middle of the body (apple shape). The hormone changes can keep a woman from having an ovum (egg) released from her ovary every month which can cause her to skip periods or have problems getting pregnant. Too much insulin also can cause the skin in the neck, armpits, or groin to become darker than the rest of the body.


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