Having polycystic ovary syndrome may increase your risk of these serious health conditions.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects women’s hormone levels. Women with PCOS may produce higher than normal male hormones, called androgens. They may also have small fluid-filled sacs inside the ovaries that contain immature eggs. This, coupled with an imbalance of hormones, may cause the ovaries to not release eggs. You may miss your menstrual period or have long or heavy periods. These problems may affect your ability to get pregnant.
But PCOS doesn’t just affect your fertility. It can also other lead to other serious health problems, including:
- Overweight or obesity: Women who have PCOS often have a hard time losing weight. If you weigh too much, your risk of heart attack, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer rises. Excess weight contributes to many chronic health conditions.
- Insulin resistance: Insulin helps your body change food into energy and balances your blood sugar. Your body may not be able to use insulin correctly, referred to as insulin resistance. This could raise your risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is common in women who have PCOS. In fact, more than 50% of women who have PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by the time they’re 40, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- High blood pressure and cholesterol: Women with PCOS are more prone to developing high blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This can raise your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
- Endometrial cancer: You may be more likely to develop cancer of the lining of the uterus (womb) due to insulin resistance, diabetes or obesity.
- Sleep apnea: People who have sleep apnea stop breathing for short periods of time while asleep. These pauses keep your brain from getting the oxygen it needs. Sleep apnea makes you feel tired during the day and increases your heart disease, heart attack and stroke risk.
- Depression and anxiety: You may feel sad, anxious or worried if you have PCOS.
- Pregnancy complications: In addition to making it harder to get pregnant, women with PCOS are more likely to develop gestational diabetes (diabetes while you are pregnant) and/or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure. PCOS also increases the risk of miscarriage and premature birth.
PCOS also causes other symptoms that may not be serious but can affect the way you feel about how you look. These symptoms are caused by the excess male hormones in women with PCOS.
- Hair loss or unwanted hair: You may lose hair on your head but grow it on your face, upper lip, neck, back or legs
- Pimples or severe acne
- Dark skin or skin tags
If you suspect you have PCOS, see a doctor. Knowing you have this chronic health condition can help you better manage any existing symptoms. It also makes it easier for you to address potential complications if you plan to get pregnant. And it can help your doctor monitor any risk factors that can lead to serious health problems down the road, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.
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Date Last Reviewed: July 19, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD