Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder in which a woman's body produces abnormally high levels of the male hormone, called androgens. These high levels of androgens prevent the ovaries from producing enough progesterone, which is necessary for a normal menstrual cycle. This results in undeveloped egg follicles, which turn into small cysts in the ovaries that prevent ovulation.

PCOS affects approximately five to ten percent of women of childbearing age and is a leading cause of infertility. It is also the most common hormonal disorder among pre-menopausal women.

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. However, research suggests that genetics may play a part, since women who have female relatives with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing the syndrome. Obesity, diabetes, being insulin resistant and having problems with the adrenal, thyroid or pituitary glands may also contribute to PCOS.

Symptoms usually develop within a few years of puberty, although sometimes they appear later in life. Symptoms may worsen during a woman's prime reproductive years — between the ages of 20 and 40 — particularly in women who gain a significant amount of weight.

Symptoms of PCOS vary for each woman. However, common symptoms may include:

Irregular periods
Excess body or facial hair
Acne
Difficulty maintaining a healthy weight
PCOS may also be associated with depression, difficulty getting pregnant, predisposition to type II diabetes and other long-term health problems.

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