Can PCOS Cause Weight Gain?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, a common hormone disorder that causes infertility, is also linked to weight gain. Learn more about the vicious cycle of PCOS symptoms and weight gain.
Most conversations with your doctor about polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), probably tend to focus on irregular menstrual periods, including missed and/or heavy periods. But women with PCOS face other problems, too — and a big one is weight gain.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
It’s not clear whether PCOS is a direct cause of the extra pounds many women with PCOS carry, but according to fertility specialist Julie Tantibhedhyangkul, MD, a link does exist.
“Experts think a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors, including diet, exercise and lifestyle, contribute to the PCOS symptoms,” she says.
PCOS affects as many 5% to 10% of women, with symptoms appearing as early as age 11.
Knowing how it can impact your weight can help motivate you to take control of it and other health issues, including diabetes, she says.
PCOS occurs when your hormones are out of balance. Women with PCOS make slightly more male hormone (androgen) than is normal. Even a tiny increase in androgen production can have an impact on how your ovaries function.
Doctors look for two out of three symptoms when making a diagnosis:
PCOS can also cause:
The symptom that’s most likely connected to weight gain is insulin resistance, Dr. Tantibhedhyangkul says.
Many women who have PCOS also have insulin resistance, which happens when the body has difficulty pulling glucose from the bloodstream and converting it to energy. Therefore, the body needs to produce more insulin in attempt to maintain a normal blood sugar level. Over time, the body begins to overproduce insulin to keep blood sugar level normal.
Insulin resistance is often cited as a large contributing factor to obesity, Dr. Tantibhedhyangkul says. When blood glucose levels continue to rise despite increased insulin levels, type 2 diabetes develops.
“PCOS itself might make women gain weight more easily than others,” she says. “And, the more weight they gain, the more additional symptoms they’ll have.” In fact, she says, more than half of women with PCOS are overweight.
Although researchers haven’t confirmed a clear genetic link, PCOS does tend to occur in families, and it’s possible that a particular mutation contributes to whether a woman develops the condition.
If you have a mother or sister with PCOS or a first-degree relative with diabetes or glucose intolerance, this may mean you’re more likely to develop the condition. An estimated one-quarter of women with PCOS have mothers with the condition, and one-third have sisters with the condition.
Interestingly, PCOS can be passed down from your father’s side as well.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for PCOS. But there are things you and your doctor may do to minimize its impact:
Whether PCOS is a direct cause of weight gain or not, it’s clear that losing weight is helpful, Dr. Tantibhedhyangkul says: “When it comes to PCOS, a main focus is always on weight loss, diet modification and lifestyle changes.”