Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Difficulty getting pregnant. The absence of menstrual periods. Inexplicable weight gain. While these symptoms sound like those in thyroid disease, they could be PCOS.
No one knows exactly what causes PCOS, but some experts believe the problem has to do with the body's inability to respond appropriately to insulin, a hormone that helps the body convert glucose into energy. There may also be a genetic link since women with PCOS often have a mother or sister with it, too. The condition affects 5 to 10 percent of all women and is the most common reproductive problem in women of childbearing age.
PCOS occurs when the ovaries produce too much testosterone. Sometimes the overproduction of testosterone is a result of the pituitary gland making too much LH. It can also occur when there is insulin resistance in the body cells, which leads to an abundance of insulin in the bloodstream. Being overweight can cause a rise in insulin, which can trigger PCOS, but the condition is not limited to women who are overweight.
Every month or so, in healthy women, ten to twenty eggs start to mature, until a single mature egg is released from the ovaries, causing ovulation. PCOS occurs when the ovaries don't make enough hormones to cause the eggs to mature. Instead, the eggs grow and become cysts. These cysts produce testosterone, which suppresses menstruation and causes unwanted hair growth.
Women with PCOS often have cysts around the border of the ovary in a pattern often described as a string of pearls. These cysts are similar to ovarian cysts, which are larger and occur inside the ovary. Unlike ovarian cysts, however, which can burst and cause pain, the cysts in PCOS typically go unnoticed.
Both hypothyroidism and PCOS cause irregular menstrual periods, weight gain, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. They can both cause fatigue, depression, and infertility. But unlike thyroid disease, PCOS may also cause acne; oily skin; and hair growth on the face, chest, and stomach.