PCOS -- A Complicated Disorder

Researchers are finding that genetics seem to play a strong role in developing PCOS. However, this research is often difficult since most women, especially those from previous generations, were never “officially” diagnosed with PCOS. For example, there may be some women in your family who had difficulty getting pregnant but were eventually able to do so. Consequently, they may not think they had a problem with fertility. In addition, many of their other symptoms -- weight gain, hair growth, and acne, for example -- were either not serious or important enough to mention to their physicians.

Many leading researchers believe that PCOS is inherited. If you have a family history of adult-onset diabetes, infertility (or difficulty conceiving), obesity, or hirsutism (among women), then PCOS may run in your family. Similarly, inherited obesity can also increase the risk of developing the syndrome in those prone to developing it. Fatty tissues can produce estrogen, which can confuse the pituitary gland into secreting abnormal amounts of hormones, contributing to the overall endocrine problem.

Some scientists speculate that women with PCOS are born with either a faulty gene or set of genes that triggers abnormally high levels of male hormones. For example, if your sister has PCOS, there is a 50 percent chance that you will also have PCOS.

“There is no one officially diagnosed with PCOS in my family, but now that I have a better understanding of the condition, I see clearly that my mother has it and so did two of my dad’s sisters and his mother. My dad is diabetic, as are several members of our extended family. No one takes me seriously when I try to get them to seek medical advice. They just count the diabetes and the heart conditions as the family curse,” said Shelly, 29, a woman with PCOS. “They don’t consider that PCOS could be part of the culprit in our family’s medical problems.” Researchers believe that the genetics of PCOS can also be passed on to males, and they may experience some of the common symptoms. Male relatives of women with PCOS tend to be insulin resistant.

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