What Causes Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?

what causes pcos

If you are among the roughly 5 million U.S. women diagnosed with PCOS, you are probably wondering what causes polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS is the most common hormonal endocrine disorder in women and the most common cause of female infertility, but it is not well understood by many doctors.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance that creates problems in the ovaries. With PCOS, the ovary either does not develop eggs properly or does not release them during ovulation, leading to the development of cysts (small, fluid-filled sacs). These cysts typically do not cause any symptoms, but some women do report pelvic pain.

It is important to note that, despite the name, not all women with PCOS have ovarian cysts, and having cysts is not an automatic diagnosis of PCOS. Neither does a lack of cysts rule out PCOS. The most significant factor is high levels of androgens (male hormones that females also have), which can interfere with ovulation and cause irregular periods, thinning scalp hair, acne, and excess hair growth on the face, chin, and body. As such, many endocrinologists have suggested changing the name of the syndrome to more accurately reflect the wide range of metabolic, physiological, and reproductive complications women experience with PCOS.

What Causes Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?

The exact cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome is unknown, but experts believe there are several factors that play a role. These include:

  • Genetics – A study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that24% of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome had a mother with PCOS and 32% of the women had a sister with the condition. However, no single PCOS gene has been identified. There appears to be a wide variety of genes and mechanisms at work – including those that affect hormone levels and insulin resistance – which could explain why PCOS has such a wide range of symptoms.
  • Insulin resistance – Insulin is a hormone that allows cells to absorb and use sugar for energy. If your cells become resistant to insulin, your blood sugar levels rise, triggering your body to produce more insulin, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. High levels of insulin can also interfere with hormone production in the ovaries, leading to high levels of androgens, especially testosterone. Many women with PCOS struggle with excess weight and obesity, which further exacerbates insulin resistance, but even lean women with PCOS often have insulin resistance.

How is PCOS Treated?

Your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on your risk of long-term health problems (such as heart disease and diabetes), your plans for having children, and your symptoms. Treatment often involves a combination of lifestyle and nutritional changes as well as hormone-based medications. 

  • Medication – At Anchor Wellness Center, we prescribe bioidentical hormones which are derived from natural sources and have the same chemical makeup as your body, making them easier for your body to absorb and reducing side effects. Bioidentical hormone therapy can relieve symptoms of PCOS and help improve fertility.
  • Diet – Since insulin resistance plays a role in PCOS, it is important to watch your sugar intake. Choose complex carbohydrates which raise your blood sugar levels more evenly and avoid sugary drinks and processed foods. Healthy eating habits combined with regular physical activity are shown to relieve PCOS symptoms.
  • Lose weight – Research has shown that losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight can reduce PCOS symptoms, make your periods more regular, and improve how the body uses insulin.

Find Relief from PCOS Symptoms at Anchor Wellness Center

As a Board Certified physician, both in Family Medicine and with the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Malhotra can provide you with a personalized treatment plan to treat your PCOS. To learn more, call Anchor Wellness today at (832) 246-8437 and schedule a consultation with Dr. Minni Malhotra, MD, FAARM, ABAARM. 

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