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PCO syndrome: symptoms, causes, consequences

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 368 views

PCO syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects women of childbearing age. Small water-filled sacs appear on the ovaries. Affected women suffer from irregular menstrual cycles, increasing male body hair and changes in body shape. With the right therapy, the symptoms of PCO syndrome can be alleviated. Read everything you need to know about the disease.

ICD codes for this disease:

ICD codes are internationally valid codes for medical diagnoses. They can be found, for example, in doctor’s letters or on certificates of incapacity for work.


quick overview

  • Symptoms: Limited fertility up to infertility, menstrual disorders, male stature and male hair growth
  • Causes and risk factors: Increased production of male sex hormones, often in connection with obesity and disorders in sugar metabolism
  • Consequences: infertility, masculinization, increased risk of other diseases, eg B. sugar metabolism disorders, cardiovascular diseases and psychological problems
  • Treatment: Above all, change in eating habits and lifestyle, medication with the pill , if you want to have children with active ingredients that promote ovulation
  • Diagnosis: The diagnostic criteria include menstrual cycles without ovulation, cysts on the ovaries, male hair type and an increased concentration of male hormones
  • Prevent: A normal body weight and a healthy lifestyle are beneficial to prevent PCOS.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCO syndrome for short, causes many different symptoms that vary in severity in each patient. Common complaints are:

  • Menstrual cycle disorders (eg missed periods)
  • Development of a male hair type (hirsutism) and a male body stature (virilism)
  • hairloss
  • Blemishes (e.g. acne)       
  • infertility
  • mental health problems (eg depressed mood or anxiety)

cycle disorders

In some women with PCOS, menstrual periods do not occur or only occur at intervals of a few months. Some women also have what are known as anovulatory cycles. There is no ovulation during the cycle. In this case, the woman is infertile.

hirsutism and virilism

Due to an excess of male hormones in the body, women with PCO syndrome develop male hair type. This phenomenon is also known as “hirsutism”. Hair grows on the chest, thighs and back, the pubic hair changes and a beard develops. Hirsutism and the masculinization of the body stature (virilism) are due to the effect of the increased presence of male hormones. Affected women develop

  • a deeper voice
  • a soon head,
  • an enlarged clitoris .

The breast size may decrease.

Causes and risk factors

The causes of the PCO syndrome have not yet been fully clarified. Doctors suspect that the tendency to polycystic ovaries is hereditary, since several women are often affected in some families.

About 50 to 70 percent of patients with PCO syndrome are overweight. In some cases, obesity increases the production of androgens, since these are formed in adipose tissue, among other things. Insulin resistance is also common. That means the receptors for the hormone insulin , which takes care of the uptake of sugar into the cells, are no longer fully functional.

A sugar intolerance or a “diabetic metabolic condition” develops. This messes up the hormonal balance and further fuels the production of male hormones (androgens). The typical physical changes of PCOS occur.

However, there are also women of normal weight without a sugar metabolism disorder who suffer from PCO syndrome. Therefore, the assumption that PCO syndrome only develops as a result of being overweight is wrong. However, experts assume that today’s “lifestyle” with a diet high in fat and sugar and little exercise contributes to the development of PCOS.

What are the consequences of PCOS?

Above all, PCOS leads to an overproduction of androgens, ie the male sex hormones. Although the body of every woman also produces small amounts of male hormones, an excess can upset the entire hormone balance. A serious consequence of the disturbed hormonal balance for women who want to have children is limited fertility, which may even lead to infertility.

In the ovaries of a healthy woman of childbearing age, several egg sacs called follicles develop in each menstrual cycle. An egg cell matures in each of these fluid-filled sacs. During ovulation, one of the follicles ruptures and releases the egg.

In the case of PCOS, this process is disturbed: the follicles do not mature sufficiently and ovulation does not occur. Instead, the follicles accumulate in the ovaries. In addition, there may be more follicles than usual. In addition, the irregular menstrual cycle contributes to reduced fertility.

Normally today it is possible to get pregnant despite the PCO syndrome. However, pregnancy with PCOS is more risky. There is an increase in miscarriages and   gestational diabetesand multiple pregnancies are increasing. Therefore, pregnant women with PCO syndrome must have regular medical examinations so that complications can be recognized quickly.

Many women affected by PCO syndrome do not only suffer physically. Due to increasing body hair, lack of menstruation and infertility, they feel increasingly uncomfortable in their bodies, may become socially withdrawn and develop depression. It is therefore extremely important that those affected receive psychological help from a therapist or in a self-help group.

In addition, the PCO syndrome is suspected of increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, gestational diabetes and type II diabetes. The risk can be reduced with medication and a change in diet. In addition, women with PCOS are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea syndrome, in which breathing stops for short periods during sleep. The risk of uterine cancer is also increased.

How is PCOS treated?

Although there is no cure for PCOS, symptoms can be relieved with medication and lifestyle changes. The doctor adjusts the treatment of the PCO syndrome to how severe the symptoms are and whether there is a desire to have children.

diet and lifestyle

When treating PCOS, it is particularly important to change your lifestyle and, above all, your diet. This applies in particular to women who are overweight or suffer from diabetes mellitus or insulin resistance. If you are overweight, a weight loss of five to ten percent can lead to a serious improvement in your symptoms.

Sufficient physical exercise also stabilizes the hormone balance and sugar metabolism. Experts recommend at least 2.5 hours per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity for women aged 18 and over, and at least 60 minutes per day for adolescents.

PCO syndrome and the desire to have children

A healthy lifestyle is also important for women with PCOS who want to have children. However, it is necessary that you also take medication or hormones that stimulate the ovaries and thus promote ovulation.

After about nine to twelve months, the doctor checks the success of the treatment. This is important because in some cases the ovaries are overstimulated by the therapy. Then there is water retention in the abdomen and chest. In addition, in such a situation, multiple pregnancies occur more often.

No desire to have children

For women who do not want to have children, there is the possibility of stabilizing the cycle with the help of ovulation inhibitors (contraceptive pills). Ovulation inhibitors prevent ovulation and reduce the production of male hormones.

surgical treatment

In rare cases, the doctor will advise the affected woman to have an operation. During the minimally invasive procedure, the doctor destroys individual egg follicles with the help of a needle or a laser. Doctors also refer to this procedure as laser drilling. In about three quarters of all women, a regular menstrual cycle can be restored with the procedure.

Laser drilling also reduces the likelihood of a multiple pregnancy for women who want to have children. However, it has not yet been conclusively clarified whether the operation may also reduce the probability of pregnancy in general or be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage.

What is PCOS?

PCO syndrome stands for polycystic ovary syndrome or polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS for short. This is a disease that primarily affects young women of childbearing age. It is a disruption in the hormonal control circuit. Male hormones in particular are overproduced in PCOS.

investigations and diagnosis

To diagnose polycystic ovary syndrome, the gynecologist will first ask about the medical history. Among other things, he would like to know the following:

  • Is the menstrual cycle regular? Has he changed?
  • Is diabetes mellitus known?
  • Have you gained weight recently ?
  • Has body hair changed?
  • Do you have an unfulfilled desire to have children?
  • Does a relative suffer from PCO syndrome?

This is followed by a physical examination and an ultrasound scan of the ovaries, during which the doctor checks the number of follicles in the ovary . In addition, if PCO syndrome is suspected, he will measure certain blood values, including hormone concentrations and blood sugar levels. The diagnosis of PCO syndrome is considered secure when the following symptoms occur:

  1. multiple menstrual cycles without ovulation
  2. multiple cysts on the ovaries
  3. increasingly male hair type
  4. demonstrably increased concentration of male hormones in the blood


A PCO syndrome cannot usually be prevented. However, it is helpful for affected women to maintain a normal body weight and a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise.

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