pcos glossary & terms

Acanthosis nigricans: a type of skin change characterized by darkened patches of skin that may have a thicker, velvety texture. The development of acanthosis nigricans in women with PCOS is likely related to insulin resistance and/or excess weight. 

Androgenetic alopecia: It is also known as male-pattern baldness. Hair loss begins above both temples, thins at the crown and often progresses to partial baldness but rarely leads to complete baldness in women (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2017).

Androgens: All females make androgens (also referred to as “male hormones”), but there are often higher levels of androgens in women with PCOS. The excess androgens are produced mostly by the ovaries, but the adrenal glands can also be involved. Excess androgens are responsible for many PCOS symptoms. 

Anovulatory cycles: In an anovulatory menstrual cycle, a woman does not release an egg (ovum), resulting in an infertile cycle. The shedding of the uterine lining is called an anovulatory bleeding rather than menstruation (Sleigh, 2011).

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure based on a person’s weight and height to estimate if a person is at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese. A BMI of 18-24.9 is considered healthy weight, 25-29.9 is considered overweight, and 30 or higher is considered obese. It is not a perfect measure, but since women with PCOS may be at risk for obesity and complications related to obesity, health providers look to the BMI as an added way to monitor weight status.

Carbohydrates or "carbs" are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and many processed or packaged foods. The body breaks down carbohydrates we eat into glucose that the body’s cells can use for energy. Foods with high GI are converted to glucose more quickly.

Cardio exercise: burns calories, and it also improves fitness of the heart, lungs, and muscles. It’s an important way to keep total calories in check.

Cardiovascular diseases: Cardiovascular diseases are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels (World Health Organization, 2017).

Circadian rhythm: biological changes in the body that occur over an approximately 24-hour cycle. They are dependent in large part to environmental cues like light and darkness to help the brain regulate biological processes such as sleep/wake cycles and the release of hormones.

Clomiphene (brand name Clomid): oral medication used to stimulate ovulation. It is taken as a five day course that may be repeated.

Cyst: a fluid-filled sac. In PCOS, women may develop multiple cysts on the ovaries.

Cyster: what we call a fellow woman that also has PCOS

Cysterhood: what we call the collaborated effort of women with with PCOS

Estrogen: a female hormone that is mainly produced by the ovaries. The adrenal glands and fat tissue in the body also make smaller amounts of this hormone. Estrogen works as a chemical messenger throughout your body.

Glucose: blood sugar. The body’s cells absorb glucose from the blood to use for energy.

Glycemic Index (GI): a way to gauge how much a carbohydrate-containing food can raise a person’s blood glucose (blood sugar). Foods with a high GI are more easily digested and absorbed by the body, causing greater fluctuations in blood glucose levels in the body. Lower GI foods are digested and absorbed by the body more slowly, resulting in a more sustained effect on blood glucose levels.

Hirsutism: unwanted male-pattern hair growth in women in locations such as the face, chest, and back. Find treatments for unwanted hair.

Hormone: a chemical messenger in the body. Hormones regulate vital functions and other hormones throughout the body.

Hyperandrogenism  or androgen excess: commonly occurs in women with PCOS.  Clinical manifestations include hirsutism (excess facial and/or body hair), adult acne, androgenic alopecia (loss of hair on crown of head), and virilization (Yildiz, 2006).

Hyperinsulinemia: A condition wherein pancreatic β-cells produce high amounts of insulin to maintain normal blood glucose levels in presence of insulin resistance (Wilcox, 2005).

Hypertension: It is also known as high blood pressure. According to American College of Sports medicine ‘An individual is diagnosed as having hypertension if their seated blood pressures on two separate occasions exceed a systolic (SBP) reading of 140 mmHg or a diastolic (DBP) reading of 90 mmHg.’ (Headley, 2016)

In vitro fertilization or IVF: a fertility procedure in which women are treated with hormone injections in order to stimulate the ovary to produce multiple mature eggs for retrieval.

In vitro maturation or IVM: an experimental fertility procedure in which immature eggs are retrieved and egg maturity occurs in the lab. The procedure cuts down the need for hormonal injections used for IVF and the risk for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).

Insulin: a hormone that allows cells to use glucose for energy. If your body doesn’t use insulin the way it’s supposed to, you can develop elevated glucose levels.

Insulin resistance: a condition in which the body has insulin, but doesn’t use it effectively. This means that glucose is not being absorbed by cells to be used for energy as expected. Over time, insulin resistance can lead to elevated blood glucose levels and insulin levels as the body needs more insulin in order for glucose to be absorbed by cells for energy. Overweight and obesity can worsen insulin resistance.

Lean PCOS: Women with PCOS that are not over weight

Melatonin: also known as the "sleep hormone." Melatonin is thought to be involved in reproduction as researchers have found melatonin receptors on ovarian cells and surrounding ovarian follicles. Melatonin may also have an antioxidant effect that protects ovarian follicles.

Metabolic Syndrome: a cluster of risk factors that increases the risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. To be diagnosed, a person must have at least 3 of these risk factors: elevated blood pressure, elevated triglycerides (blood fats), elevated fasting blood glucose (blood sugar), low

HDL (good cholesterol), waist line greater than 35 inches for women (or 40 inches for men). Because characteristics of PCOS are also found with metabolic syndrome, some experts believe they are related as part of a spectrum.

Metformin (brand name: Glucophage): an oral medication that makes the body more sensitive to insulin. This can help women with PCOS lower elevated blood glucose levels, insulin levels, and androgen levels.

Oligomenorrhea: Irregular menstrual cycle longer than 35 days or a history of ≤ nine menses per year (Asgharnia, Mirblook, & Soltani, 2011).

Oligo-ovulation: Infrequent release of egg from the ovary is known as oligo-ovulation. It is indicated by serum luteal phase progesterone <4 [micro]g/L (12.7 pmol/L) in patients with regular menses (The Free Library, 2012). Since ovulation is difficult to measure menstrual frequency is commonly used as a surrogate.

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) causes swelling of the ovaries with leaking of fluid within the body. PCOS and the use of fertility treatments to stimulate the ovaries can increase the risk for OHSS. It affects about 10% of women who undergo traditional IVF.

Ovaries: part of the female reproductive system and found in the pelvic region on either side of the uterus. They produce and release eggs during ovulation. They also produce hormones.

Ovulation: the release of an egg from the ovary. In PCOS, women typically do not ovulate regularly. Ovulation induction: when the ovaries are stimulated to release an egg typically with the use of drugs. The drugs used for ovulation induction are also known as fertility drugs.

Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD): A condition in which a woman has little or no menstruation, is infertile, has excessive body hair, and is obese. The ovaries may contain several cysts.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): a health condition that affects about 1 in 10 women. The exact cause is unknown, but it is considered a hormonal problem. It is a leading cause of female infertility and causes a number of symptoms that can affect the body physically and emotionally.

Prediabetes (may be referred to as borderline diabetes): a condition characterized by blood glucose (blood sugar levels) that are above normal, but less than what would qualify as type 2 diabetes. Having prediabetes greatly increases the risk of developing full-blown diabetes.

Primary amenorrhea: It is defined as failure to reach menarche due to chromosomal irregularities leading to ovarian insufficiency (Klein & Poth, 2013)

Progesterone: a female hormone. In PCOS, a lack of progesterone contributes to period irregularity.

Secondary amenorrhea: It is defined as the cessation of regular menses for three months or the cessation of irregular menses for six months. It can be attributed to PCOS (Klein & Poth, 2013).

Sleep apnea: a sleep disorder characterized by brief episodes of stopped breathing that disrupts sleep. Having PCOS may increase your chance of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea has also been linked to increased heart disease and stroke risk. 

Strength training: burns calories, but it also builds muscle. This may help curb the effect of insulin resistance that is common in women with PCOS.

Testosterone: It is a steroid hormone produced mainly by the testes in males and by the ovaries and adrenal cortex (gland atop each kidney). Testosterone stimulates development of male secondary sexual characteristics (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2016).

Triglycerides: Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the human body.  Blood triglyceride levels higher than 150 mg/dl are associated with metabolic disorders (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2017).

TTC: Trying To Conceive



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Asgharnia, M., Mirblook, F., & Soltani, M. (2011). The prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in high school students in Rasht in 2009 according to NIH criteria. International journal of fertility & sterility, 4, 156–159.

Headley, S. (2016, October 7). Public information articles: Living with Hypertension. Retrieved from ACSM.org: http://www.acsm.org/public-information/articles/2016/10/07/living-with-hypertension

Klein, D. A., & Poth, M. A. (2013). Amenorrhea: an approach to diagnosis and management. Am Fam Physician., 781-8.

The Free Library. (2012, June 1). Metabolic heterogeneity in polycystic ovary syndrome is determined by obesity: plasma metabolomic approach using GC-MS. Retrieved from The Free Library: https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Metabolic+heterogeneity+in+polycystic+ovary+syndrome+is+determined+by...-a0334379850

Medicine, U. N. (2017, January 23). Health Topics: Triglycerides. Retrieved from U.S. National Library of Medicine: https://medlineplus.gov/triglycerides.html

Sleigh, M. (2011). Anovulatory Cycle. In S. Goldstein, & J. A. Naglieri, Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development (p. 108). New York: Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Medical Encyclopedia: Testosterone. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003707.htm

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Androgenetic alopecia. Retrieved from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/androgenetic-alopecia

World Health Organization. (2017). Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs317/en/

Wilcox, G. (2005). Insulin and insulin resistance. Clinical Biochemist Reviews, 26(2), 19–39.

Yildiz, B. O. (2006). Diagnosis of hyperandrogenism: clinical criteria. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab., 167-76.