What is PCOS?
PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is a hormonal disorder amongst women of reproductive age that affects a woman’s hormones, periods and ovulation.
Causes of PCOS
The exact causes of PCOS are unknown. There is certainly indication of imbalance in the hormonal system that leads to PCOS, but the exact cause of this hormonal imbalance is unknown. However, scientists believe that certain factors may be playing a role in the cause of PCOS. These factors are:
- Excess insulin: excess insulin may lead to hormonal imbalance by boosting androgen production by the ovaries.
- Low-grade inflammation: Some predisposed people may experience an inflammatory response when consuming some types of foods. This could lead to white blood cells producing substances that can result in insulin resistance, hence leading to PCOS
- Heredity: If PCOS runs in your family, you are perhaps at a higher risk of getting it.
- Abnormal fetal development: research shows that it is possible that normal genes may be prevented from behaving in the way they are supposed to due to excessive exposure to male hormones (androgens) while still in fetal form, perhaps leading to hormonal disturbance and causing PCOS.
There is no specific test to diagnose PCOS. The doctor will need to take into account all your signs and symptoms to determine his or her diagnosis. The factors to take into account when diagnosing PCOS are as follows:
- Medical history
- Physical examination
- Pelvic examination
- Blood tests
- Pelvic ultrasound
Medication for PCOS
Medication typically prescribed for women with PCOS includes:
- Birth control pills: these may be recommended by your doctor if you are not trying to get pregnant. Fertility pills: In the event that you are trying to get pregnant.
- Diabetes medicine called metformin. It can help restore regular menstrual cycles and fertility.
Lifestyle Changes for PCOS
Health and nutrition advocates advise women with PCOS to:
- Choose complex carbohydrates
- Get ample exercise
Symptoms of PCOS
Primary Symptoms of PCOS
The signs and symptoms of PCOS may vary significantly from one person to another. However, at least two of the following three conditions are typically present in the case of PCOS:
- Menstrual abnormality: This characteristic is most common with this condition. Menstrual intervals may get longer than normal and the frequency of periods may reduce. On the other hand, women may experience prolonged, yet heavy or scant periods.
- Excess Androgen: Increase in production of the male hormone androgen by the ovaries may result in overt physical signs like excess body and facial hair, severe acne, thinning of hair according to male pattern, etc.
- Polycystic ovaries: It is possible to detect ovaries that have become enlarged and contain several small cysts with the help of ultrasound.
It is important to remember that any two of these three conditions need to be present to qualify a case as PCOS.
Secondary Symptoms of PCOS
PCOS is generally accompanied by a number of secondary symptoms like:
- Infertility: Total lack of ovulation or infrequent ovulation may lead to infertility. In fact, female infertility is most commonly caused by PCOS.
- Obesity: Statistics show that women with PCOS are more likely to be obese, or at least overweight.
- Type 2 Diabetes or Prediabetes: Many women with PCOS become insulin resistant, which can result in high blood sugar, leading to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
- Acanthosis nigricans: This refers to dark, velvet-like skin that appears on the nape of your neck, inner thighs, armpits, under your breasts or around the vulva.
Treatment for PCOS
There is no fixed treatment in dealing with PCOS. However, these are common measures:
- Schedule regular checkups: It is important to go for regular checkups to manage conditions like cardiovascular risks, such as high blood cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
- Adjust your lifestyle habits: Keep your weight in check, eat healthy and exercise regularly. You may want to attend a program that helps you control your weight, meet a dietician and join a gym. If you smoke, consider quitting. Consume only moderate amounts of alcohol, if at all.
- Regulating your menstrual cycle: This is important because it helps lower your risk of endometrial cancer. This will also help you prevent abnormal bleeding.
Treating the additional symptoms of PCOS like excess hair and acne can be resolved by:
- Waxing, tweezing, shaving unwanted hair
- Using OTC or prescription medication for acne