No, PCOS is not an infectious disease, or one that is caused by a bacteria or virus. It's not contagious and it's not a disease you can get from a friend of family member. PCOS is a chronic, hormonal disorder where the ovaries produce larger than normal amounts of androgens, or male hormones like testosterone. Women with this condition are often overweight and experience symptoms like abnormal hair growth, acne and irregular periods. Their ovaries appear polycystic on ultrasound, meaning that there are multiple small follicles throughout the ovary. Not every woman experiences the same symptoms, however, and some women don’t even realize that they have PCOS until they try to get pregnant.
Researchers aren’t sure about what causes PCOS, though there are a few theories. There are several scientists looking at a possible genetic link because of the observation that PCOS tends to be seen among many women in the same family. It’s been a difficult process because of the lack of a single diagnostic test as well as the many different forms that the syndrome takes. More research is needed before a single genetic factor is identified.
Some scientists believe that an elevated blood insulin level may be responsible for the increased testosterone production. Others think that the elevated insulin is the result of the high androgens. Again, more research is needed to figure out the exact relationship between these two factors.
Another theory is that there is a dysfunction in the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian (HPO) axis of hormonal control. The hypothalamus is a gland within the brain that, when stimulated, produces a hormone, known as Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone or GnRH. GnRH travels to the pituitary gland, another small structure in the brain. The pituitary gland produces a variety of other hormones which regulate and maintain many body functions. Among other hormones, the pituitary produces FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (lutenizing hormone), which travels to the ovary to cause androgen production. This theory doesn’t fully explain PCOS because it doesn’t address why women with the condition have elevated LH levels, and in addition, not every woman with PCOS have elevated LH levels.
While there is no cure for PCOS, it is known that living a healthy lifestyle can be effective in bringing the symptoms under control. Regular cardiovascular exercise and a low sugar, low fat diet can not only aid in weight loss but also keep you healthy. Avoid processed foods in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains.
Though it may be difficult, losing weight if you are overweight can be very effective in reducing symptom severity and even restoring regular menstrual cycles. There are also a number of medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, which can be used to medically treat the symptoms. Speak with your doctor about your treatment options, and don’t hesitate to revisit if something doesn’t seem to be working. There are many different alternatives and it may take some time to figure out what works best for you.
Harris, Colette and Carey, Adam. PCOS: A Woman's Guide to Dealing with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.Thorson; London. 2000.
Thatcher, Samuel. PCOS: The Hidden Epidemic. Perspectives Press; Indianopolis. 2000.