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Complications of PCOS

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Updated June 18, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Many women mistakenly believe that PCOS only affects the menstrual cycle and a woman’s fertility. However, polycystic ovary syndrome is a complex disorder which can impact many body systems. Possible complications of PCOS include endometrial cancer, heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Endometrial Cancer

Women with PCOS do have a slightly higher chance for developing endometrial cancer than women who don't have PCOD. The more irregular and fewer periods a woman has, the greater her risk becomes. During a normal menstrual cycle, the endometrium is exposed to hormones, like estrogen, which cause the lining to proliferate and thicken. When ovulation does not occur, which is typical in PCOS, the lining is not shed and is exposed to much higher amounts of estrogen causing the endometrium to grow much thicker than normal. This is what increases the chance of cancer cells beginning to grow.

Heart Disease

Having PCOS increases a woman’s chances of getting heart-related complications. This is due to the high insulin levels that have been associated with PCOS and are known to increase one’s risk for high cholesterol, blood pressure, and atherosclerosis. These conditions can increase your risk for a heart attack and stroke.

Diabetes

Women with PCOS frequently have insulin resistance, meaning their body does not respond as quickly to insulin. The sluggish response will cause larger and larger amounts of insulin to be required before glucose is taken into the body tissues, and eventually a change in the way the body deals with sugar. Consistently high levels of glucose in the blood can lead to diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome, or Syndrome X, is a grouping of risk factors which commonly occur together and increase ones risk for cardiovascular disease. The most common metabolic changes associated with this syndrome include the following:
  • Increased abdominal weight
  • High levels of triglycerides.
  • Low levels of good cholesterol, or HDL
  • High blood pressure
  • High fasting blood sugar
Due to its link to obesity and insulin resistance, women with PCOS are at an increased risk for this cluster of conditions.

How Can I Reduce My Risk for Complications?

The first and foremost thing you can do is gain control over your diet and exercise plans. Many of us eat on an emotional level. If giving up a favorite food seems completely unrealistic, take it one meal at time. Adding in just a little bit of activity each week can be very helpful. In fact, starting with a commitment to walk 10,000 steps each day is a great way to get started. A pedometer is a very useful tool to help you reach that goal. Making a plan to help you address each of above complications is instrumental to your success.

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