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Adolescent Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

What is Adolescent Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?

Almost one out of every 10 teen girls and young women has polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This condition is a hormone imbalance in which the ovaries produce excessive amounts of male hormones such as testosterone. Normally the ovaries produce very small amounts, but in PCOS, they make more. This can cause irregular periods, unwanted hair growth, and acne.

Treatment is important as teens and women with PCOS also are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol.  Girls with PCOS are also at a higher risk of infertility and endometrial hyperplasia (thickening of the lining of the uterus) when they are older.

What are the signs and symptoms of Adolescent Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?

A key sign of PCOS is irregular or missed periods because the effects of the condition on the ovaries can make a girl stop ovulating. But other symptoms can include:

  • Acne
  • Patches of dark, thickened skin on the neck, armpits or between the breasts
  • Periods that are very heavy or very light
  • Thinner hair on the head
  • Unwanted hair growth on the face, chest, back, hands, upper arms and legs, or around the nipples
  • Weight problems

How is Adolescent Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects your daughter has PCOS, your doctor will do a physical exam to check blood pressure, height and weight, will look at hair growth on the body and will check for patches of darkened skin. Your doctor will also ask you about your daughter’s health, her medicines and her menstrual cycle, and about whether there’s a family history of PCOS.

Additional tests may include:

  • A blood test to check hormone levels, blood glucose (sugar), or cholesterol. Your daughter may have to be fasting when these tests are done.
  • An ultrasound (imaging) test of the ovaries and uterus (more commonly done in adults over 21 years of age, and seldom in the adolescent years)

What are the causes of Adolescent Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?

The exact cause is not known, but there appears to be a genetic component as it tends to run in families. Teens with PCOS are also found to have increased levels of male hormones and resistance to insulin. Although there is no cure for PCOS, effective treatment can control and eliminate many symptoms.

How is Adolescent Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) treated?

Although there is no cure for PCOS, treatments are effective and can include one or more of the following:

  • Lifestyle changes- Simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference, including eliminating sugary drinks and treats, getting regular exercise and quitting smoking.
  • Counseling with a registered dietitian – Professional guidance will help you understand how to choose healthy foods and lose weight if you need to.
  • Medication – Medication may be prescribed to regulate periods, help the body use insulin better, and control acne.
  • Hair removal treatment – Your doctor may give guidance on effective treatment for unwanted body and facial hair, such as bleach, wax, medicines, shaving, electrolysis or laser treatment.

Adolescent Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) Doctors and Providers