PCOS – Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome is a health condition more common than scary that it sounds. Found primarily in females of childbearing age, around 10 million women suffer from PCOS presently (PCOS Awareness Association, 2017). This article will discuss the causes, symptoms and effects of PCOS and few lifestyle changes which can help improve the condition. The medicinal treatment aspect has been left untouched in this article, as expert gynaecologists would have suitable and better information about that.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. The hormonal imbalance creates problems in the normal functioning of ovaries. The ovaries are responsible for making and releasing the egg each month as a part of a healthy menstrual cycle. For women suffering from PCOS, the egg may not develop as it should or may not be released during ovulation. The name “polycystic” means may cysts and PCOS generally leads to many clusters of small pearl sized cysts in the ovaries. The cysts are fluid filled sacs and contain immature eggs. A PCOS patient would normally show enlarged ovaries size in a pelvic ultrasound.
What causes PCOS?
The exact cause of PCOS is still unknown. Genetics and environmental factors are believed to be responsible for the development of PCOS. Women are more likely to develop PCOS if their mother or sister suffer from the same condition. Other factors that contribute to PCOS are –
- High levels of androgens
Androgens or “male hormones” are produced by all females in small quantities. Women suffering from PCOS have high levels of androgens due to which symptoms like acne, facial hair, male pattern baldness and irregular or missed periods appear in women suffering from PCOS.
- High levels of insulin
Insulin hormone is responsible for controlling the food eaten into energy. For women suffering from PCOS, the body doesn’t remain as responsive to insulin as in normal bodies. This insulin resistance leads to elevated blood glucose levels and causes the body to make more insulin in return. Having too much insulin in the body leads to production of more androgens. Women having insulin resistance combined with obesity and unhealthy eating habits are prone to type 2 diabetes in long term.
In PCOS, a lack of progesterone causes irregular or missed periods.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
Typically, symptoms of PCOS start after a woman begins menstruating. The type and severity of symptoms may vary from person to person. The most evident characteristic of PCOS is irregular or absent periods.
Since PCOS is marked by a decrease in female sex hormones and increased male hormones, it can cause women to develop some male characteristics like –
- Excess hair on the face, chest, stomach, thumbs, or toes
- Decrease in breast size
- Male pattern baldness
- Weight gain and trouble losing weight
- High stress levels
What are the effects of PCOS?
Women with PCOS have high risk of developing the following over the years –
- High cholesterol
- Anxiety and depression
- Sleep apnea
- Heart attack
- Breast cancer
- Endometrial cancer (cancer caused by thickening of the lining of the uterus)
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis — a severe liver inflammation caused by fat accumulation in the liver
Tests and diagnosis
There are no specific tests for definitive diagnosis of PCOS. The diagnosis is one of exclusion in which the doctor considers all signs and symptoms and rules out other possible disorders. Some other tests and exams conducted include –
- Physical exam – the doctor might note several key pieces of information like height, weight and blood pressure
- Pelvic exam – visual and manual inspection of reproductive organs for signs of any abnormal growth
- Blood tests – blood sample is taken to test androgen levels. Other tests may include testing fasting cholesterol and triglyceride levels and a glucose tolerance test.
- Ultrasound – this shows the appearance of ovaries and the thickness of the uterus lining.
- Weight loss – The first and foremost recommendation for dealing with PCOS involves weight loss by consuming a low calorie diet combined with regular exercise. Even a small reduction in weight helps improve the condition. Weight loss can reduce both insulin and androgen levels and may restore ovulation.
- Dietary changes – Low fat, high carbohydrate diets may increase insulin levels. A complex carbohydrate diet which is high in fiber is beneficial. The more fiber in a food, the more slowly it’s digested and the more slowly the blood sugar levels rise. Avoid soda, excess fruit juice, cake, candy, ice cream, pies, cookies and doughnuts.
- Avoid smoking as it may increase androgen levels and prevent ovulation
Proper diagnosis combined with lifestyle changes and proper treatment, women can get relief from PCOS and avoid the health problems that it can cause. Choosing healthy options helps deal with the condition in a big way!!