Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), also known by the name Stein-Leventhal syndrome, is a hormonal problem that causes women to have a variety of symptoms. It should be noted that most women with the condition have a number of small cysts in the ovaries. However, women may have cysts in the ovaries for a number of reasons, and it is the characteristic constellation of symptoms, rather than the presence of the cysts themselves, that is important in establishing the diagnosis of PCOS.
PCOS occurs in 5% to 10% of women and is the most common cause of infertility in women. The symptoms of PCOS may begin in adolescence with menstrual irregularities, or a woman may not know she has PCOS until later in life when symptoms and/or infertility occur. Women of all ethnicities may be affected.
What are the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)?
The principal signs and symptoms of PCOS are related to menstrual disturbances and elevated levels of male hormones (androgens). Menstrual disturbances can include delay of normal menstruation (primary amenorrhea), the presence of fewer than normal menstrual periods (oligomenorrhea), or the absence of menstruation for more than three months (secondary amenorrhea). Menstrual cycles may not be associated with ovulation (anovulatory cycles) and may result in heavy bleeding.
Symptoms related to elevated androgen levels include acne, excess hair growth on the body (hirsutism), and male-pattern hair loss.
Other signs and symptoms of PCOS include:
obesity and weight gain,
elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance
high cholesterol levels,
elevated blood pressure, and
multiple, small cysts in the ovaries.
Any of the above symptoms and signs may be absent in PCOS, with the exception of irregular or no menstrual periods. All women with PCOS will have irregular or no menstrual periods. Women who have PCOS do not regularly ovulate; that is, they do not release an egg every month. This is why they do not have regular periods and typically have difficulty conceiving.