What Causes PCOS? Know The Reasons Behind

Aditi Shenai

December 6, 2022

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone imbalance disorder in women that can lead to irregular menstrual cycles and difficulty getting pregnant.

It is one of the most prevalent disorders affecting humans. Still, fortunately, there are ways to prevent it if one is aware of its symptoms, root causes, and preventive measures.

Early diagnosis and intervention are essential for managing PCOS and avoiding other potential health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease, that can arise from neglecting the disorder.

In addition, understanding the root causes of PCOS can help bring hormone levels back into balance, so it is vital to be aware of the causes of this syndrome.

PCOS – An Overview

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common health problem that results from an imbalance of reproductive hormones. This imbalance leads to abnormalities in the ovaries.

Read more: PCOS Diet – Symptoms, Causes, Foods, & Diet Plan

For example, one can experience the failure to develop or release an egg during ovulation properly. As a result, it can cause irregular periods and, in some cases, infertility. 

Data suggests that PCOS occurs in 5 to 10% of women between the ages of 15 and 44. It can affect any woman after puberty, regardless of race or ethnicity. A family history of PCOS can increase your chances of developing the condition, as can being overweight or obese. Suppose you have any signs of non-ovulation, hyperandrogenism, or cysts on the ovaries. In that case, you must consult a doctor to get a proper diagnosis.

Thankfully, today’s world is far more developed than one can imagine. As a result, there have been many technological and scientific evolutions. These innovations have made disease management more manageable and more intelligent. 

Read more: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Diet Do’s and Don’ts

HealthifyMe is an excellent tool for managing and treating PCOS and related issues. The innovative yet holistic approach by HealthifyMe helps prevent the condition with dietary modifications and lifestyle management. With the help of HealthifyMe, women can enlighten and empower themselves regarding their ovary health and ways to achieve good health by maintaining a good lifestyle.

Ovaries and PCOS

Before understanding the causes of PCOS, let us know the role of ovaries.

The primary job of the ovaries is to help women get pregnant. Each month, they generate an egg which matures and releases during ovulation.

This egg is then guided down the fallopian tube to get fertilised. Unfortunately, the eggs do not develop fully for women with PCOS leading to complications with getting pregnant. An ultrasound of their ovaries may reveal numerous follicles. These follicles are not cysts but eggs that have yet to mature correctly.

PCOS can result from elevated levels of male hormones in the body. However, the follicles or under-developed eggs in the ovaries of women with PCOS have no apparent link to women with larger cysts. In some cases, surgery might be necessary, and the risk of ovarian cancer may increase.

PCOS in a nutshell

Many cysts in a woman’s ovaries go away, become soft over time, and disappear. But in PCOS, these numerous cysts, which are tiny in size, can affect your hormones in the endocrine system to a great extent. Hence, the inability to have a menstrual period or infertility develops.

PCOS can make a woman weak at producing regular menstrual cycles and, thereby, inefficient in becoming fertile. Again, it is because the cysts in the ovaries are present in an abnormal number making the flow of menstrual periods a bit complicated, thereby complicating the conception of a child.

The PCOS in a woman can make them highly obese and prone to heart disease or diabetes. And this, in the long term, can lead them to witness cardiac arrests. 

Causes of PCOS

Women who gain weight without any known cause may be diagnosed with PCOS. Hereditary factors, obesity, an inactive lifestyle, discontinuing birth control, stress, and unhealthy eating habits can all contribute to the development of PCOS.

PCOS can result from a hormonal imbalance resulting in elevated insulin levels in the body. It can cause the ovaries to produce excessive male hormones (androgens), leading to various PCOS symptoms.


As per a study, PCOS, a common chronic illness, can be hereditary. Studies show that PCOS tends to run in families, and individuals with PCOS have a 50% higher chance of having a mother, sister, aunt, or daughter with the condition. 

It is likely that the link is complicated and involves multiple genes rather than a single gene. Furthermore, type 2 diabetes is another health issue in the families of those with PCOS.

Unlimited Production of Androgen

Androgens, sometimes referred to as ‘male hormones’, are present in men and women but tend to be at much lower levels in women. 

Women’s bodies produce small amounts of androgens in the adrenal glands and ovaries. In women with PCOS, increased levels of androgens can lead to symptoms such as increased body hair growth and hair loss from the scalp. These higher levels of androgens can also cause irregular ovulation and periods. 

High androgen levels can prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation), resulting in irregular menstrual cycles. Ovulation irregularities can also cause the formation of tiny, fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries. Additionally, high androgen levels lead to acne and more hair growth in women.

Cells’ Resistance to the Insulin

Insulin resistance occurs when the body cannot process insulin properly, leading to high glucose levels in the blood. When this happens, the ovaries produce and circulate higher levels of male hormones (androgens).

This increased androgen production can prevent ovulation and contribute to other symptoms of PCOS. However, insulin also plays a vital role in regulating how the body processes glucose (sugar) and uses it for energy. As a result, people with insulin resistance are at risk of developing high blood sugar levels or diabetes.

Research has found that up to 70% of women with PCOS develop insulin resistance, meaning that their cells cannot properly utilise insulin. It leads to a situation where the body’s cells fail to respond to insulin, which blocks glucose from entering the cells.

As a result, the body needs to use the available insulin more effectively to manage glucose levels. However, to compensate, the body produces more insulin, which leads to an increase in the production of androgens. In addition, lifestyle choices, such as obesity due to diet and lack of physical activity, can impact insulin resistance.

Long-term Low-grade Inflammation

Women with PCOS often have higher levels of inflammation, which one can determine through blood tests that measure white blood cells and C-reactive protein (CRP).

This chronic low-grade inflammation is a typical symptom of PCOS. And one side-effect of this inflammation is the production of androgens. So in the long term, this low-grade inflammation can lead to PCOS.

Being Overweight

In some cases, PCOS may result from a single cause, while in others, it could be the product of multiple reasons. The severity of the symptoms may also depend on the underlying cause. Fortunately, an active and healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise can help reduce PCOS symptoms.

The HealthifyMe Note

Determining the exact causes of PCOS can be challenging, but several potential contributing factors and underlying causes exist. PCOS can occur at any time following puberty. Therefore, some women experience it earlier, and a few do not realise it until they plan to conceive in their twenties or thirties. However, some common causes are obesity, inflammation, heredity and insulin resistance.

Complications of PCOS 

Every disorder comes with certain complications, and unfortunately, PCOS does too. Women with this syndrome are prone to develop some long-term diseases too.

Uterine Lining Cancer

Also popular as endometrial cancer, this particular illness starts in the cell linings of a female’s uterus. According to a study, this cancer is widespread in women in their 60s. For example, women in their premenstrual phase are almost six times more susceptible to this cancer.

Sleep Apnea

It is a sleep disorder which affects breathing during a person’s slumber. PCOS, which brings a disturbance in hormones and other sleep-related disorders, constitutes this complication too. In this condition, one can commonly observe a repetitive stoppage and commencement of breathing whenever a person sleeps.


Most women with PCOS are prone to infertility as their ovaries play a significant role in getting pregnant. Thus, a disorder in the endocrine system, which includes the ovary system, can inevitably affect pregnancy. As per the study, women with PCOS are 70%-80% more infertile than those without PCOS.

Read more: PCOS and Fertility: Here is Everything You Need to Know

Gestational Diabetes

It is a severe health problem where women who have PCOS can have diabetes in the middle of their pregnancy. It puts both the mother and her baby at risk of diabetes. A study says that in such a case, both the mama and her baby can have a high chance of getting type 2 diabetes in the future.

Read more: Gestational Diabetes Diet – Foods to Eat and Avoid

Depression or Mood Disorders

Women with PCOS can also suffer depression, anxiety and other mood swings. According to a study, PCOS is closely connected with a woman’s mental health. So, most females can also observe eating disorders like eating heavily, which results in obesity. In contrast, stress or anxiety can also cause PCOS. In a nutshell, stress and PCOS can go hand-in-hand with each other.


Although some women with PCOS can become fertile and bear a child, the risk of miscarriage or premature childbirth is still higher. According to a study, the threat of miscarriage or premature delivery in those with PCOS is threefold.

Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis

In this condition, a person has inflammation due to a fat buildup in the liver. The excess production of androgens can sometimes lead to liver disorders like nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. In the long term, it can lead to liver failure.

Metabolic Syndrome, like Type 2 Diabetes

According to a study, almost 30% of women with PCOS can have metabolic syndrome. Now, this particular syndrome can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, prediabetes etc. HealthifyMe can help you understand PCOS, along with its preventive measures.

Managing PCOS like a Pro

The best and most effective ways to manage, prevent and combat PCOS is maintaining a healthy weight and leading an active lifestyle. To mitigate the effect of PCOS on your health, you must add certain foods to your diet. HealthifyMe lets people know what foods to include to achieve good ovary health. Also, this tool lets you know why to avoid those food items.

Some activities like walking, gentle stretching exercises and yoga can help improve the condition. In addition, following the circadian rhythm, getting proper sleep, switching off mobile devices at least 3 hours before you sleep, calorie watching, and maintaining a healthy BMR are small steps that can improve conditions like PCOS. With the HealthifyMe app, you can track these parameters easily. 

Food Types to Add to the Nutrition for PCOS

  • Highly Fibrous
  • Lean Proteins
  • Anti-inflammatory foods

To give you a more vivid comprehension, let’s give you examples of those food items:

Highly Fibrous

  • Vegetables like broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Raw carrot
  • Baked potato with skin
  • Boiled sweet corn
  • Boiled green peas, etc.

Lean Proteins

Examples of lean proteins include,

Anti-inflammatory Foods

Low-grade inflammation can be a cause of PCOS. Thus, it is necessary to control that inflammation through foods like:

  • Tomatoes
  • Salmon
  • Almonds
  •  Walnuts
  • Olive Oil
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Spinach
  • Kale, etc.

Read more: Anti-inflammatory Diet Foods – Benefits and Recipes

Food Types to Avoid During PCOS

  • Fried foods
  • Processed meats like hot dogs, hamburgers, etc.
  • Sugary drinks
  • Refined carbohydrates like white bread
  • Solid fats like margarine etc.

The HealthifyMe Note

Female mammals have a separate reproductive system, unlike males. And when it comes to humans, this reproduction system includes ovaries as the main organ. Producing menstrual periods, ova and constituting the pregnancy is the central concept of this ovary system. However, in some cases, these ovaries will face some syndromes like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Besides, there is cystic in PCOS for a reason. Also, the ovaries and the female reproductive system have cysts. Although cysts are common in every woman’s ovary, in this case, these cysts will be in huge numbers. 


On a brighter note, PCOS is not fatal, provided one takes the necessary steps and preventive measures. Additionally, most women with PCOS can conceive and also enjoy motherhood. 

If you gain weight suddenly or have irregular periods, opt for HealthifyPRO 2.0. The tool can help you to adopt a healthier lifestyle, lose weight and manage the condition with easy-to-follow dietary and lifestyle modifications.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is the leading cause of PCOS?

A. The causes of PCOS are unpredictable. Therefore, no one can precisely pinpoint the root cause of PCOS in women. However, a set of some common causes of PCOS can give an idea regarding which cause might have triggered PCOS in a particular person. Some are anxiety, stress, insulin resistance, low-grade inflammation, and genetics. Regardless, in all of the above situations, the excess levels of androgen presence play a significant role in forcing PCOS in women.

Q. What problems does PCOS cause?

A. PCOS can come with many complications, and a few famous ones can be weight gain, i.e., obesity, hair growth in unwanted places, diabetes, primarily type 2, and infertility. Additionally, infertility cases among PCOS women can lead to problems like miscarriage, gestation diabetes, etc. Other issues like metabolic syndrome disorders that include heart diseases and liver inflammation may also arise.

Q. Is PCOS caused by lifestyle?

A. Well, certain lifestyles, like that of a sedentary one, can lead to PCOS in women. To discuss more of such a lifestyle, people who do not exercise or consume healthy and nutritional food. So, such cases may lead to insulin resistance and obesity. All those will ultimately lead to PCOS in women. Thus, we can infer that a sedentary lifestyle can provoke PCOS.

Q. At what ages PCOS starts?

A. A person who is susceptible to PCOS has it prevailing already. However, they will get to know them only when they find trouble getting regular menstrual cycles or conceived. Usually, PCOS can begin in women as soon as they undergo their first-ever menstrual cycle at 11 or above. So, getting the treatment as soon as people suspect issues with their menstrual periods is good to avoid further complications.

Q. How can I avoid getting PCOS?

A. Leading a healthy lifestyle, eating right and maintaining a healthy body weight are the most crucial ways to prevent PCOS. To avoid PCOS, go with including a nutritional diet in your lifestyle. Also, one should prefer to exercise regularly to put their weight in check. Regardless, taking measures to reduce inflammation, insulin resistance, etc., can reduce the chances of having PCOS.

Q. What are the warning signs of PCOS?

A. The warnings you get when you have PCOS can comprise irregular menstrual periods, hirsutism, obesity, baldness, anxiety, mood swings, eating disorders, diabetes, acne, and oily skin. Moreover, the inability to become fertile can also become a sign of PCOS. Also, miscarriage or premature childbirth can be other symptoms.

Q. Do PCOS women  get pregnant?

A. Just because you have PCOS doesn’t mean you can’t become pregnant. Although there are higher chances of becoming infertile or miscarriage, there is still the probability of getting pregnant. So, we say that PCOS can get pregnant happily. However, we suggest PCOS take ultra care and medication from their gynaecologists to deliver the child safely.

Q. Can PCOS go away with weight loss?

A. To put it this way, weight loss may not necessarily be the only solution to PCOS. Besides, once a female observes PCOS, one cannot cure it completely. But on the other hand, obesity is a natural result of PCOS. Thus, preferring to go for weight loss can make a woman have a balance in her hormones and weight.

Q. Which food is good for PCOS problems?

A. Foods that are high in fibre content, low in proteins and have anti-inflammatory properties can solve PCOS problems. Maintaining a healthy diet rich in nutrition will help females make them strong enough to face PCOS problems. Examples may include vegetables like broccoli and foods like fish and nuts.

About the Author

M.Sc in: Dietetics and Applied Nutrition from Manipal University. Worked: All over India and have been involved in helping set up nutrition departments in start ups. Interested in lifestyle based nutrition. Mantra: A healthy lifestyle isn't a choice to be made or discarded, it's a way of life!

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