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What *Exactly* Happens To Your Body When You Have PCOS?

We consulted an OB/GYN about the causes and long-term effects of polycystic ovary syndrome.

Many women suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), but we lack a sense of urgency when it comes to dealing with it, especially if pregnancy isn’t something we’re thinking about right now.  We spoke to Dr. Rebecca Singson, an OB/GYN at St. Luke’s Medical Center, about the causes and long-term effects of PCOS.

Polycystic ovary syndrome occurs when you have an insulin-resistance gene. Insulin is the hormone that controls sugar metabolism. A normal cell has around 120,000 receptors for insulin. The insulin attaches to one of the receptors, like a key, and unlocks the sugar molecule that enters your cell. That’s where the sugar is burned.

For women with PCOS, instead of having 120,000 receptors, which decreases as you get older, there are only around 5,000 receptors. This means you have less landing sites for insulin, less doors to open for sugar, and less sugar metabolized by your cell.

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So what happens to all the excess sugar? It goes to your liver and pancreas. The liver turns it into fat, which explains the immense weight gain that some PCOS patients experience. The pancreas is the organ that secretes insulin. When the pancreas detects unburned excess sugar, its reaction is to send more insulin through your system with the hope of bringing the sugar down. Dr. Singson notes, “Hindi naman alam ng pancreas mo that there aren’t enough receptors.” All that excess insulin will now bombard your ovaries to secrete high levels of testosterone. This is why some women with PCOS have a lot of pimples and male pattern facial hair.

Apart from high testosterone, PCOS patients also have high levels of estrogen in their body. This sets women up for estrogen-related problems like breast cysts, ovarian cysts, myomas, and polyps. These can lead to breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers.

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Dr. Singson continues, “All that excess estrogen feeds back to the pituitary gland in your brain—the gland responsible for secreting the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)—and it will shout to your ovaries: ‘Hey! Please release an egg!’” Unfortunately, the excess estrogen depresses the FSH, hinders it from shouting to your ovaries, and keeps you from releasing an egg. That’s why it’s harder to get pregnant when you have PCOS. Without the egg, you don’t produce progesterone, which is in charge of telling your body that it’s time to have your period.

This insulin-resistance gene can also predispose you to high cholesterol and high sugar, and that kind of spike can lead to diabetes, hypertension, strokes, and heart attacks. As you now know, having PCOS doesn’t just affect your ability to get pregnant; it has serious, life-altering health implications, so see your doctor as soon as possible.

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