Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a disorder of the hormonal system affecting androgens (male hormones), insulin and progesterone. In polycystic ovarian syndrome, it is possible that the ovaries become enlarged with fluid-filled swellings (cysts) at the outer edges as the name implies. However, some women have cysts without having the syndrome and some have the condition without developing cysts. The name given to the condition is therefore misleading.
PCOS is common among women of reproductive age (15- 49 years) with statistics as high as 1 in 10 women. It is the leading cause of infertility and causes increased risks of illnesses such as heart problems, stroke, obesity, diabetes and some cancers in affected women.
WHAT CAUSES PCOS?
The cause of PCOS remains unknown but some factors which may play a role include:
Studies have shown that PCOS runs in families. This means that it may be passed down from parents to their children through genes that cause the disease.
2. Insulin resistance
Insulin is meant to help you use up glucose in your blood and keep the blood sugar levels within normal range. When the body notices resistance to insulin, it produces more insulin to overcome the problem. This leads to a great increase in production and activity of the male sex hormones (androgens) which the ovaries normally produce in small quantities.
3. Low-grade inflammation.
Inflammation is a process where white blood cells produce substances to fight infection or threats to the body. There's a possibility that women with PCOS have some constant low-grade inflammation that causes polycystic ovaries to produce male sex hormones, which leads to an array of problems and symptoms of the disease.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PCOS?
PCOS has many possible symptoms and a person affected may not notice more than two to three of these symptoms. This makes it possible for women to live with the condition for years without getting diagnosed. Some symptoms that can easily be noticed are:
1. Period irregularities
Due to the increase in male hormones in the body, the menstrual cycle can be adversely affected . There may be irregular periods, no periods for a long time or even very heavy flow.
The menstrual irregularities may ultimately affect fertility since ovulation, a process where eggs are released for fertilisation, is impaired or stopped.
3. Abnormal hair growth
A person with PCOS may begin to have hair on their face, back, chest, buttocks and so on. This is attributed to the increased androgen levels.
4. Hair loss
A person with PCOS may notice thinning of the hair on the head or even balding which worsens with age.
5. Acne and oily skin
Although easily dismissible, persistent acne and oily skin are some of the symptoms seen in people with PCOS. Severity of symptoms varies but symptoms are found to be worse in people who are obese or overweight.
HOW CAN I PREVENT PCOS?
Prevention of PCOS is difficult since the causes are not known. However, a healthy lifestyle is important to prevent associated complications like diabetes, liver problems, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and so on.
HOW IS PCOS TREATED?
This condition is incurable but there are many ways to treat symptoms depending on each individual. Generally, treatment may include:
1. A healthy diet and regular exercise.
2. Hormonal treatments.
3. Hair removal therapies.
4. Fertility medications.
5. Weight loss medications.
7. Surgery (laparoscopic ovarian drilling)
If you notice any or all of the symptoms mentioned, see your doctor as soon as you can to relieve your symptoms and test for PCOS. The diagnosis will require pelvic examinations and imaging as well as some blood tests.
Written for Hellocare by Maryam Ibrahim