More About PCOS- Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common female endocrine disorders affecting approximately 5%-10% of women of reproductive age (12–45 years old) and is thought to be one of the leading causes of female infertility.
The principal features are obesity, anovulation (resulting in irregular menstruation) or amenorrhea, acne, and excessive amounts or effects of androgenic (masculinizing) hormones. The symptoms and severity of the syndrome vary greatly among women. While the causes are unknown, insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity are all strongly correlated with PCOS.
Polycystic ovaries develop when the ovaries are stimulated to produce excessive amounts of male hormones (androgens), particularly testosterone, either through the release of excessive luteinizing hormone (LH) by the anterior pituitary gland or through high levels of insulin in the blood (hyperinsulinaemia) in women whose ovaries are sensitive to this stimulus.
The syndrome acquired its most widely used name due to the common sign on ultrasound examination of multiple (poly) ovarian cysts. These "cysts" are actually immature follicles, not cysts ("polyfollicular ovary syndrome" would have been a more accurate name). The follicles have developed from primordial follicles, but the development has stopped ("arrested") at an early antral stage due to the disturbed ovarian function. The follicles may be oriented along the ovarian periphery, appearing as a 'string of pearls' on ultrasound examination. The condition was first described in 1935 by Dr. Stein and Dr. Leventhal, hence its original name of Stein-Leventhal syndrome.
PCOS is characterized by a complex set of symptoms, and the cause cannot be determined for all patients. However, research to date suggests that insulin resistance could be a leading cause. PCOS may also have a genetic predisposition, and further research into this possibility is taking place. No specific gene has been identified, and it is thought that many genes could contribute to the development of PCOS.
A majority of patients with PCOS have insulin resistance and/or are obese. Their elevated insulin levels contribute to or cause the abnormalities seen in the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis that lead to PCOS.
Adipose tissue possesses aromatase, an enzyme that converts androstenedione to estrone and testosterone to estradiol. The excess of adipose tissue in obese patients creates the paradox of having both excess androgens (which are responsible for hirsutism and virilization) and estrogens (which inhibits FSH via negative feedback).
Also, hyperinsulinemia increases GnRH pulse frequency, LH over FSH dominance, increased ovarian androgen production, decreased follicular maturation, and decreased SHBG binding; all these steps lead to the development of PCOS. Insulin resistance is a common finding among patients of normal weight as well as those overweight patients.PCOS may be associated with chronic inflammation, with several investigators correlating inflammatory mediators with anovulation and other PCOS symptoms
Women with PCOS are at risk for the following:
- Endometrial hyperplasia and endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterine lining) are possible, due to overaccumulation of uterine lining, and also lack of progesterone resulting in prolonged stimulation of uterine cells by estrogen. It is however unclear if this risk is directly due to the syndrome or from the associated obesity, hyperinsulinemia, and hyperandrogenism
- Insulin resistance/Type II diabetes. A review published in 2010 concluded that women with PCOS had an elevated prevalence of insulin resistance and type II diabetes, also when controlling for body mass index (BMI).
- High blood pressure
- Depression/Depression with Anxiety
- Dyslipidemia - disorders of lipid metabolism — cholesterol and triglycerides. PCOS patients show decreased removal of atherosclerosis-inducing remnants, seemingly independent on insulin resistance/Type II diabetes.
- Cardiovascular disease
- Weight gain
- Acanthosis nigricans (patches of darkened skin under the arms, in the groin area, on the back of the neck)
- Autoimmune thyroiditis