Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome(PCOS), also known asPolycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD) is acondition that affects the level of hormones in a woman of a reproductive age. Generally, all human bodies need a certain balance of both ‘male’ and ‘female’ hormones, but in women who have a PCOS/PCOD this balance is disturbed and there is more production of male hormones. In PCOS, many small sacs full of fluid tend to grow inside the ovaries. These sacs are follicles that contain an immature egg that never mature enough for ovulation. Due to lack of ovulation, the hormone levels are altered, causing various problems.

Some of the hormones that play a critical role in PCOS are:

Androgens: Most commonly found hormones in men but also can be found in women. However, in women with PCOS the level of hormones is higher than normal.

Insulin: This hormone is responsible for managing the level of blood sugar in the body. In women with PCOS, the way the hormone may not function effectively to counteract diabetes.

Progesterone: This hormone is responsible for the periods and with PCOS there is shortage of this particular hormone in the body leading to irregularity in periods or no periods at all.

This tends to create problem with the ovaries – there can be irregularity in periods or no periods, formation of cyst and in extreme cases infertility. Even if a woman suffering from PCOS gets pregnant, she is likely to have higher chances of miscarriage, preeclampsia, high-blood pressure due to pregnancy and premature delivery. There can also be several other problems such as excessive hair growth on face and body, baldness, acne and obesity. Moreover, associated health risks include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Infertility
  • High cholesterol
  • Increased lipids
  • Sleep apnea
  • Liver problem
  • Irregular urine bleeding
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Fatty liver (non-alcoholic)
  • Anxiety
  • Heart disease

While the exact cause of PCOS is not known; however it has been strongly linked to factors such as:

Genes: If someone in the family such as mother or sister is suffering from PCOS – there is a higher chance of the individual being affected by the condition.

Excess production of insulin in the body: Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the body use sugar from the food for energy. When cells of the body are not able to use insulin appropriately, they demand more insulin, causing the pancreas to produce more insulin to compensate. This in turn leads to ovaries increasing the production of male hormones in the body – causing PCOS.

Low-grade inflammation: Low-grade inflammation has been linked to excess production of androgen – a hormone whose excess production triggers PCOS. Low-grade inflammation can be due to obesity.

That said, PCOS is a common problem and treatable if detected timely. Early diagnosis, effective treatment aided with sustainable weight loss can help reduce long-term complications of PCOS.

Symptoms of PCOS

The time when a woman starts experiencing PCOS symptoms varies greatly on the intensity of the condition. While some women experience symptoms during the first period, some others might not witness any symptoms until they have gained excessive weight or have trouble getting pregnant. It may years for some women to diagnose their condition and get appropriate treatment.

Some of the common symptoms that can help with diagnosis of PCOS are:

Problem with Periods: The most common and significant symptoms of PCOS is irregularity or absence of periods. PCOS causes lack of ovulation which prevents the lining of the uterus to shed monthly, causing issues with periods such as irregular periods or absence of periods. A women with PCOS, gets less than 8 periods yearly on an average.

Heavy Menstrual Bleeding: Apart from problems with periods, women suffering from PCOS are also likely to experience heavy menstrual bleeding during periods. This happens because the uterine line builds up for a time longer than usual, causing excessive bleeding.

Excessive Hair Growth in Unwanted Areas: Another troubling symptom of PCOS that is easy to identify is excessive growth of hair in areas such as the face, breast, stomach, thumb, toes, back, etc. This condition is particularly referred to as ‘hirsutism’.

Hair Loss: Simultaneous to the excessive growth of hair in unwanted areas, women with PCOS tend to experience extreme hair loss or thinning from the head. This symptom tends to intensify with age.

Weight Problems: Women with PCOS suffer from overweight issue; they either tend to overweight or have a hard time losing weight.More than half of the women with PCOS are overweight or obese.

Acne or Oily Skin: Though these are general problems, but this can indicate PCOS in some women. Hormonal changes triggered by PCOS tend to cause breakouts in form of acne on the face, chest and back. Moreover, due to excessive production of male hormones caused by PCOS – the skin becomes more oiler than usual.

Darkening of the Skin: In women suffering from PCOS, dark patches of skin can develop in the creases on the neck, in the groin, under the breasts, etc.

Headaches: Change in hormonal levels caused due to PCOS can cause headache in some women.

Infertility: Infertility or problems in getting pregnant can be an indication of PCOS.

Sleep Issues: Most women with PCOS tend to have troubles falling asleep – a disorder known as sleep apnea. Moreover, even after a restful sleep, these women tend to experience fatigue and feel tired all the time.

Two or more of these symptoms indicate that there may be a PCOS problem. Hence, it is better to be alert for symptoms so that effective medical help can be sought timely. Early diagnosis and treatment helps to better manage the condition.

Treatment for PCOS

The treatment for PCOS will depend on condition-to-condition. Some women might experience symptoms that they would want to be treated individually and at priority; such as women experiencing issues with getting pregnant will seek PCOS treatment that helps them improve fertility, whereas women who experience acne and other skin issues might seek treatment to improve skin health and reduce acne breakouts. Hence, the treatment of PCOS depends on the goal of the patient. That said, PCOD cannot be permanently cured, it can only be treated to manage symptoms and improve health generally. That said, the primary treatment for PCOS is adoption of a healthy lifestyle and habits, followed by medication.

Overall, even though PCOS cannot be entirely cured, it can be very easily managed provided it is detected timely and appropriate treatment is received.

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