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Women's Health

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PCOS Expected to Rise

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Is a Cause of Female Infertility
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 23, 2007 -- It is the leading cause of female infertility, but most women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) never know they have the disorder until they try, and fail, to get pregnant.

Now a new review of the research predicts that more and more women will develop PCOS as obesity becomes a bigger problem throughout the world. Obesity can be a sign of PCOS, and being obese exacerbates other manifestations of PCOS like infertility and insulin resistance.

PCOS researcher Robert Norman and colleagues from South Australia's University of Adelaide made the prediction in the Aug. 25 issue of the journal The Lancet.

Current estimates vary, but it is believed that up to one in 10 women in the U.S. and one in 15 women worldwide suffer from PCOS. The cause of PCOS is not known, but it is thought that genetics and environmental factors may be involved.

Many, like 34-year-old Kelly Holton, spend many frustrating years searching for answers before they are finally diagnosed.

One Woman's Story

Holton, who lives in Atlanta, says she knew there was something very wrong when she reached puberty at the age of 11. Her periods were wildly irregular from the start, occurring as infrequently as one or two times a year.

Puberty also brought on dramatic weight gain, and she was unable to lose the weight despite her best efforts.

She was 19 years old when a gynecologist told her she had two options for her infrequent and very painful periods: take birth control pills or have a hysterectomy. PCOS was never mentioned.

"I didn't opt for the hysterectomy," she tells WebMD. "I took birth control pills for years, and that masked the symptoms to some degree."

She says she first learned about PCOS six years later when her mother read about the disorder in a women's magazine.

"She called me and said, 'Go buy this magazine. This article describes you,'" Holton says. "I read it and the symptoms were so familiar. I was able to connect the dots for the first time."

In addition to being overweight and having irregular periods, Kelly had many of the classic PCOS symptoms, including excessive body hair and dark patches of skin under her arms.

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