By: Jackie Johnstone, CNM

So you have heard about it but what is it all about?

PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. It occurs when a woman’s levels of estrogen and progesterone are out of balance which then leads to the growth of ovarian cysts and a multitude of other things.

PCOS has been linked to an increased risk of developing other medical conditions such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease.


*10% women of childbearing age are estimated to have PCOS
*50% of women are undiagnosed
*50% will develop type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes before the age of 40
*4.3 billion is the estimated cost to the healthcare system to diagnose and treat those with PCOS
*The risk of developing endometrial cancer is increased by 3x
*PCOS is responsible for 70% of infertility issues in women who have difficulty ovulating

Who is at risk?

*Those with a family history.
*Those who have increased insulin levels (increased insulin levels stimulate increased male hormone production)
*Those who are obese, especially if it began before puberty.

What are the signs and symptoms?

* Irregular/no periods
*Excess facial and/or body hair
*Severe acne
*Multiple cysts on the ovaries
*Weight gain or obesity
*Insulin Resistance
* Anxiety/depression

How is PCOS diagnosed?

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine there must be 2 of the 3 following signs and symptoms:
1.) Irregular ovulation or no ovulation
2.) Signs of increased androgen (male hormone) levels
3.) Multiple small cysts on the ovaries (this alone cannot diagnose PCOS)

How is it treated?

There is no cure for PCOs but the main focus is to control the symptoms so that the effects of PCOS on the rest of the body are minimal. Measures include: improving insulin sensitivity, restoring normal ovulation and decreasing androgen levels.

The key factors in improving these measures boil down to diet – low glycemic index diet, exercise – increasing physical activity and emotional well-being.

With PCOS, correcting abnormal hormone levels, losing weight and managing cosmetic concerns are key for those not planning on pregnancy. If pregnancy is desired losing weight and promoting ovulation is key! Medications are often used to help regulate periods, control hair loss and acne, as well as help with insulin resistance. Medications can also help decrease long-term complications such as high cholesterol and heart disease.

PCOS is very complex and not always easy to understand but with a little help, it can be managed!