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PCOS & Irregular Cycles

This section provides you with helpful information about PCOS and irregular cycles that you should know.

1. Are all menstrual cycles 28 days long?

No, in fact only 12% of women have the stereotypical 28 days long cycle(1). Most healthy women have cycles that usually range from 26 to 32 days.

2. What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

PCOS is the commonest endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age. A woman with PCOS can have several of these symptoms:

3. What are polycystic ovaries?

Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles that are up to 8mm (approximately 0.3in) in size. The follicles are under-developed sacs in which eggs develop. In PCOS, these sacs are often unable to release an egg, which means that ovulation doesn't take place.

4. Does PCOS always come with excessive body hair and absence of a menstrual period?

No, the range of symptoms of women with polycystic ovaries includes not only non-hirsute women with oligomenorrhoea or amenorrhoea but also hirsute women with regular ovulatory cycles. PCOS occurs in nearly 75% of cases of anovulatory infertility and over 80% of women with hirsutism(2).

5. What causes PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it often runs in families. It's related to abnormal hormone levels in the body, including high levels of insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that controls sugar levels in the body. Many women with PCOS are resistant to the action of insulin in their body and produce higher levels of insulin to overcome this. Thus, it contributes to the increased production and activity of hormones such as testosterone. Being overweight or obese also increases the amount of insulin your body produces.

6. Can you develop PCOS over time?

No. The symptoms of PCOS often date from adolescence.

7. How does PCOS affect LH levels?

Women with PCOS can have raised levels of luteinising hormone (LH) compared with women that don't have PCOS. However, this condition does not always happen(2).

References

(1) Hatcher RA, Trussell J, Nelson AL. Contraceptive Technology.

(2) Franks S. Polycystic ovary syndrome.