Can PCOS Be Prevented?

Not Entirely—But It Can Be Treated to Minimize Its Effects

In This Article

About 5 million U.S. women of reproductive age have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common hormonal problem in women of reproductive age. It usually starts at puberty, when hormone production starts. Women with PCOS make more of the male hormone (androgen) than normal. This can cause infrequent and/or irregular periods and signs of excess male hormone.

At least two of the following conditions are necessary to make a diagnosis of PCOS:

  • Absent or chronically irregular periods
  • Signs of high male hormone levels: oily skin and hair, acne that lasts into adulthood, and hirsutism (abnormal hair growth on the face, chest and abdomen)
  • An ultrasound showing multiple small cysts on the ovaries (polycystic ovaries)

PCOS and Related Health Challenges

In addition to abnormal menstrual cycles, acne, and hirsutism, women with PCOS also have health challenges. These include elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Women with PCOS also have a higher risk of depression and are more likely to develop uterine cancer, compared to women without PCOS.

Because the hormone imbalance interferes with ovulation, it contributes to infertility.

How Genetics Relates to PCOS

To address the original question, “Can PCOS be prevented?” the answer is, “not entirely.” Many cases are genetically acquired and tend to run in families. However, the role of genes is not exactly clear. 

If you have a mother or sister with PCOS, or a first-degree relative with type 2 diabetes or glucose intolerance, this may mean you’re more likely to develop the condition.

Thirty percent of women with PCOS have mothers with the condition and 50 percent have sisters with the condition.

PCOS can be passed down from your father’s side as well.

While your genes make you susceptible to developing the condition, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you will. Some women develop PCOS only when they have other risk factors. These include:

How to Lessen the Impact of PCOS

birth control for PCOS
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

While most cases of PCOS can’t be prevented, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help prevent its most serious complications. This includes eating a healthy diet and exercising to maintain your ideal weight. Weight gain can increase insulin levels, which can contribute to additional weight gain and the production of more androgen.

Insulin resistance can also lead to diabetes, which increases cardiovascular risk. It’s a vicious cycle that’s best avoided by preventing weight gain in the first place.

The following measures can minimize the impact of PCOS on your health and quality of life and may even reverse the condition in some women:

  • If you are overweight, losing the extra weight will help improve your cholesterol levels and blood sugar control and may restore normal menstrual cycles and fertility.
  • If you have diabetes or prediabetes, your doctor may prescribe a medication such as metformin to improve your insulin sensitivity.
  • Talk with your doctor about taking birth control pills to balance your hormones and regulate your menstrual cycle. Oral contraceptives can also help slow excess hair growth, improve your acne, and decrease your cancer risk.
  • If you are having trouble conceiving, see an infertility specialist. You may benefit from medications or procedures to induce ovulation and help you conceive.

A Word From Verywell

The important message is that you don’t have to suffer from PCOS. Lifestyle modifications can help a great deal in controlling its symptoms. Even if PCOS persists, the symptoms and medical consequences of this condition can be easily treated.  

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