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PCOS is More Common Than You Think

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PCOS is More Common Than You Think

September is PCOS Awareness Month. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, often shortened to PCOS, is a hormonal condition where your ovaries produce excess hormones. This results in a hormonal imbalance that can cause irregular menstrual cycles, high androgen levels, and cysts in the ovaries. According to the World Health Organization, PCOS affects 8-13% of reproductive-aged women, but up to 70% of affected women go undiagnosed worldwide.  


Symptoms of PCOS can vary from person to person.  

  1. Irregular Periods: Women with PCOS often experience irregular menstrual cycles, which can range from infrequent periods to heavy, prolonged bleeding. 
  2. Ovulatory Dysfunction: PCOS can lead to irregular ovulation or the absence of ovulation altogether, making it challenging for women to conceive. 
  3. Hirsutism: Excessive hair growth in areas where men typically grow hair, such as the face, chest, and back, is a common symptom of PCOS. 
  4. Acne and Oily Skin: Hormonal imbalances can lead to an increase in acne and excessively oily skin. 
  5. Weight Gain: Many women with PCOS struggle with weight gain or obesity, which can exacerbate other symptoms and increase the risk of other health conditions. 
  6. Hair Thinning: Thinning hair or male-pattern baldness can occur in women with PCOS due to elevated levels of androgens (male hormones). 
  7. Skin Darkening: Dark patches of skin, known as acanthosis nigricans, may develop in areas such as the neck, groin, and underarms. 

Causes of PCOS 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, PCOS is very common, but there is still a lot that is unknown about the syndrome. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. Genetics may play a role, but there are other factors that may cause it as well.  

Insulin Resistance: When insulin levels increase in your body, your ovaries begin to make and release male hormones called androgens. Androgens suppress ovulation and cause symptoms of PCOS. Normally, insulin processes your body’s glucose levels and turns it into energy. Someone with PCOS may have insulin resistance, leading to high blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance can also lead to diabetes.  

High Levels of Androgens: High levels of androgen prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs, therefore causing irregular periods. This can also cause acne and excess hair growth.  

Low-grade Inflammation: When dealing with infection or injury, your body sends a response using white blood cells. The response is low-grade inflammation. People with PCOS often have long-term low-grade inflammation that leads their ovaries to produce androgens.  

Infertility and Diabetes 

PCOS can often lead to a diabetes diagnosis. Although people with PCOS can make insulin, their bodies cannot use insulin correctly. This increases their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. According to the CDC, more than half of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by the age of 40.  

PCOS is also one of the most common causes of female infertility, affecting as many as 5 million US women. Since PCOS interferes with the growth and release of eggs from the ovaries, this stops ovulation from occurring. Since ovulation is stopped, pregnancy cannot occur.  

How AFSPA Can Help 

As a member of the Foreign Service Benefit Plan, you can access our Wellness Programs that may help with specific conditions like diabetes and infertility. We offer four programs to help with diabetes and prediabetes. These programs provide unlimited blood glucose test strips, coaching, and wellness incentives to help you live with diabetes. 

In 2023, FSBP added coverage for Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Procedures. This includes services, supplies, and drugs related to ART procedures up to $5,000 maximum per person per calendar year. You can learn more about our Infertility Services in our FSBP brochure.  

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