What is polycystic ovary syndrome, which affects 1 in 10 women?

Verified on 06/12/2023 by Alexane Flament, Editor
Qu'est-ce que le syndrome des ovaires polykystiques, qui touche 1 femme sur 10 ?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder affecting women of childbearing age. It affects between 5% and 10% of women of childbearing age. Symptoms, causes, diagnosis: we tell you more about this often misunderstood disease.

Occurring from adolescence to menopause, polycystic ovary syndrome is thought to affect one in 10 women, making it the most common endocrine disease in women of childbearing age (it may actually affect more women, as the figures are probably underestimated).

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Although polycystic ovary syndrome does not manifest itself in the same way or with the same intensity in every patient, it is worth paying attention to these main symptoms:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles (very long or no periods at all)
  • Hair problems (hyperpilosity, appearance of hair according to a male pattern, such as on the upper lip, chin, stomach, toes)
  • Hair loss and density
  • Infertility (for half the women concerned)
  • Metabolic syndrome (many patients have difficulty stabilizing their weight)
  • Acne
  • Mood and sleep disorders
  • Dark spots on the skin (usually around the groin, arms or nape of the neck)
  • Insulin resistance

While these signs may be the cause of the disease, they may also be unrelated to polycystic ovary syndrome.

Good to know: The only way to know if you are affected by the disease is to have a gynecological check-up!

What causes this endocrine pathology?

While it may be linked to other factors, it is often diagnosed in women suffering from obesity, hairiness or fertility problems.

This is a pathology caused by hormonal imbalances in the ovaries and/or brain, leading to excessive production of androgens, particularly testosterone.

These abnormally high levels of so-called male hormones in the blood affect follicle growth, complicating the functioning of the ovaries and hence ovulation.

Abnormally high blood insulin levels have also often been observed in PCOS. Patients then suffer from insulin resistance, a symptom which can also restrict ovulation.

In addition to the possible responsibility of endocrine disruptors in the onset of the disease, certain observations may also suggest that genetic mutations could be associated with this pathology (although this concerns less than 10% of cases).

Overall, the causes of polycystic ovary syndrome are still very unclear.