Women of reproductive age are commonly affected by an endocrine system disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. This condition is marked by irregular periods, excessive hair growth, acne, and obesity. However, if left untreated, PCOS can also lead to more serious health problems and complications.
Having polycystic ovary syndrome puts you at a higher risk for developing the following health conditions:
- Diabetes: More than 50% of women with PCOS will have pre-diabetes or diabetes before the age of 40.
- High blood pressure: PCOS puts you at a greater risk for having high blood pressure.
- Infertility: Because PCOS affects ovulation, this disorder is the most common reason for infertility in women.
- Sleep apnea: This occurs when breathing stops for short period of time during sleep, and it is a common complication of PCOS.
- Depression and/or anxiety: Having PCOS can be emotionally difficult as well. You might feel embarrassed by your appearance, worried about infertility, or depressed in general.
- Endometrial cancer: This is a cancer that affects the lining of your uterus. PCOS causes your body to produce estrogen and not progesterone, which can cause the lining to become too thick and increase your risk for cancer.
- Metabolic syndrome: This is a cluster of signs and symptoms that indicate an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis: This is a severe liver inflammation that is caused by excess fat accumulation in the liver.
- Cholesterol and lipid abnormalities: This can include elevated triglycerides or low levels of high density lipoproteins (the “good” cholesterol).
- Heart attack: The risk of heart attack is four to seven times higher for women with PCOS than for women of the same age who don’t have PCOS.
Pregnant women with polycystic ovary syndrome will be at an increased risk for the following conditions.
- Gestational diabetes
- Premature delivery
If you have polycystic ovary syndrome, there are some things you can do to reduce your chance of having complications. Look at treatment plans that use a combination of methods to treat multiple symptoms instead of focusing on just one, such as infertility. Also, it can be helpful to get regularly tested for diabetes or pre-diabetes, which is impaired glucose intolerance. You can also:
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity intensifies the symptoms of PCOS and increases your risk for complications such as heart attack and diabetes. Just losing a small amount of your body weight, such as 5% to 10%, can reduce androgen levels and restore ovulation.
- Eat a healthy diet: Low-carbohydrate, high fiber diets are good for women with PCOS.
- Exercise regularly: Being active will help lower your blood sugar levels and help with insulin resistance.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking will significantly increase your risk for complication with PCOS. If you smoke, look into programs and treatment methods that can help you stop.