What is PCOS?

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome when I was 21 years old. I was so confused because my doctor simply did not explain it to me. Below is my best try at explaining what PCOS entails and some of the research I have done. I am not a medical expert and much of this is from my own reading, so I don't claim it to be 100% accurate or authentic medical knowledge or advice. It is true to my own experience and education. If you feel you may have PCOS, please go see a doctor and know that you are not alone! And please do not feel overwhelmed by this information. It is meant to be inclusive and thorough. Not all women struggle with all facets of PCOS, and there is help and information out there. Any self-diagnosis done by my information is done at the reader's risk, and I truly encourage you to seek medical help if you feel you need it.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormonal disorder and imbalance that affects about 1 in 10 to 20 women of child-bearing age. Normally, women's ovaries produce a small amount of male hormones called androgens. In PCOS, the ovaries produce more androgens than normal. PCOS can also affect a woman's estrogen and progesterone levels. The androgen and estrogen levels become too high, and the progesterone levels drop too low. The imbalance of these hormones can cause a woman not to ovulate, which causes irregular periods or missing periods completely.

Low progesterone can have many symptoms:

-Mood swings
-Appetite changes
-Weight changes
-Lack of concentration

On top of the low progesterone, high androgen and high estrogen, PCOS also causes insulin resistance, which puts women at risk for both diabetes and heart disease. Normally, food is absorbed into the bloodstream in the form of sugars. Our bodies create insulin (thanks, pancreas) to attach to cells in order to remove sugar from the bloodstream so it can be converted into energy. With insulin resistance, the body's cells do not use the insulin hormone properly, making the pancreas create more insulin than normal in order to try to compensate.

The symptoms of insulin resistance are:

-High blood pressure
-Abnormal cholesterol levels
-Heart disease
-Kidney damage

Finally, the other symptoms of PCOS include:

-Irregular periods
-Weight gain and trouble losing weight
-Hirsutism: Extra hair on the face and body, usually thicker and darker facial hair and more hair on the chest, belly and back
-Thinning hair on scalp
-Fertility problems

WOW. That's a lot of information!

Below are links to many of the websites I have used for research, for my personal information and for this page. Please take a look and do some reading, especially if you think you might have PCOS.

PCOS Fact Sheet -- the basics of PCOS

PCOS Hormonal Imbalance -- a more in-depth look at what's going on with PCOS hormones

Low Progesterone -- info on what progesterone does and symptoms of low progesterone

Insulin Resistance -- the basics of insulin resistance

PCOS Support Online -- a support website for women with PCOS

PCOS Soul Cysters -- an online support group for women with PCOS

PCOS Diva Blog and Tips -- a resource for community, advice and support

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