How PCOS Affects Your Body

How PCOS Affects Your Body

PCOS affects many body systems, not just the reproductive system

Medically reviewed by Col. Ada D. Stewart, M.D.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where an imbalance in hormones causes many changes in the body. 

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown.

About 1 in 10 people assigned female at birth have PCOS.

Symptoms vary, but usually include:

  • Irregular or missed periods
  • Abnormal hair growth
  • Hair loss or thinning hair
  • Acne
  • Trouble getting pregnant
  • Weight gain, especially in belly
  • Pelvic pain
  • Heavy bleeding

How PCOS affects your body

PCOS is a multi-organ disease that can affect your endocrine, reproductive and cardiovascular systems.

  • Ovaries
    • Extra follicles, abnormal periods
  • Uterus
    • Pregnancy complications
    • Risk of uterine cancer
  • Adrenal glands
    • Higher testosterone levels 
  • Pituitary gland
    • Acne and hair growth
  • Pancreas
    • Insulin resistance
  • Liver
    • Excess fat cells
  • Cardiovascular
    • High blood pressure
    • High cholesterol
    • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Abdomen
    • Fat accumulation

PCOS and other health conditions

Imbalanced hormones and weight gain caused by PCOS can lead to other health complications, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Weight gain
  • Mood disorders (anxiety/depression)

Fact: Up to 65% of women with PCOS experience excess weight gain. 

Mission-readiness and PCOS

PCOS puts you at risk for health conditions that can affect military height/weight standards and mission-readiness.

  • Stress can affect mental health and overall well-being
  • Pelvic pain can interfere with performance
  • Unusual periods and heavy bleeding can soil uniforms
  • Insulin resistance and abdominal weight gain
    • Can make it hard to meet standards for weight, interfering with promotions, reenlistment or professional development opportunities
    • Can worsen disordered eating, which is common in the military

Up to 8% of women in the military are diagnosed with an eating disorder in comparison to 5% in civilian women. 

Can people with PCOS stay in the military? 

There are currently no relaxed weight standards for women diagnosed with PCOS. But a diagnosis is not an automatic discharge from the military. You may need a waiver for medication to balance hormones, but you can continue your career and be mobilized or deployed.

Talk to your medical provider for advice about continuing your job after a PCOS diagnosis.

This educational resource was created with support from Sumitomo Pharma.


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