Who gets PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition affecting on average between 6-10% of people assigned female at birth globally. The three main features of PCOS are irregular periods, excess androgen (high levels of “male” hormones) and polycystic ovaries. But who is most likely to be affected by the condition?

As PCOS can display as a variety of symptoms, the cause and how it presents can be different in everyone. Symptoms may include:

  • Irregular or no periods
  • Difficulty getting pregnant due to irregular/no ovulation
  • Hirsutism; excessive hair growth most commonly on the face, chest, back and buttocks
  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss or thinning hair on the head
  • Oily skin or acne

The signs and symptoms of PCOS are most likely to become apparent when an individual is in their late teenage years to early twenties. Risk of developing PCOS may be influenced by a combination of your genes and also environmental aspects of how you live. Whilst the exact cause of PCOS is unknown it does appear to run in families, however there are no specific genes as of yet that have been identified to be associated with the condition. Nevertheless, if a relative such as your mother, sister or aunt has PCOS, your risk of developing the condition is higher.

As mentioned the specific cause of the condition is unknown, in addition to running in families it is thought to be related to abnormal hormone levels. It is common that individuals with PCOS may display insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps to control the amount of sugar in the blood, by moving glucose from blood to the cells to be broken down for energy production. When an individual has insulin resistance it means the bodies tissues resist the effects of insulin and as a result produce additional insulin to compensate for this. When this happens and levels are high, the ovaries will produce too much testosterone preventing normal ovulation.

Additionally, people with PCOS are frequently found to have hormone imbalances in specific hormones. As well as the increased levels of testosterone mentioned, levels of luteinising hormone, which may affect the ovaries, and levels of prolactin, can also be found to be raised. Whilst levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) found to reduce the effect of testosterone, may also be lower. Due to the exact cause being unknown the reason why these hormonal changes occur is also not fully understood.

Overall there is no definitive answer to who gets PCOS, however when and if you’re more likely to get it, is linked to your age and family.

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