PCOS, meaning polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormonal condition that affects women of childbearing age. Polycystic ovary syndrome is one of the main causes of infertility in women of childbearing age. PCOS is diagnosed in one in six infertile Nigerian women. It is a fairly common condition in Nigeria with over 100 thousand cases per year. In this article, we will be looking at the PCOS symptoms and treatment every woman must know.
As it is a condition that affects only women, every woman of childbearing age needs to know the symptoms and risk factors for PCOS. This is so it can be diagnosed early and treatment of the symptoms can start to prevent long-term complications, especially if she plans to have children.
The ovaries are small, oval-shaped organs located on the left and right sides of your uterus in the lower abdomen. The ovaries are glands that control the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
They do the important job of producing and storing your eggs (or ovum). During ovulation, one of the ovaries releases an egg and if sperm fertilizes it, it can lead to a pregnancy.
Apart from releasing eggs to be fertilized each month, the ovaries play an important role in your menstrual cycle by making hormones. The ovaries secrete estrogen and progesterone, the two hormones that affect reproductive development, pregnancy, and menstruation, and some androgens. Depending on what point you are in your menstrual cycle, the production and effects of these hormones can be different.
Different diseases and conditions can affect your ovaries. Such conditions include ovarian cysts, ovarian cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and Pelvic inflammatory disease, to mention a few. But this article is going to cover the symptoms, causes, and treatment of PCOS.
What Is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal imbalance condition caused by the ovaries producing excess male hormones (androgens).
Production of androgens in little amounts by the ovary drives the ovary's follicle development which leads to the production of an ovum (egg). Excess production of these androgens prevents the regular release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation). This in turn causes erratic menstrual cycles, missed and unpredictable periods.
Because the ovaries do not ovulate for a while, small sacs filled with fluid may develop on the ovaries. These are called cysts. Although, you may not need to have these cysts on your ovaries before you can be diagnosed with PCOS.
PCOS is fairly common with up to 15% of women of childbearing age having it. A woman can get PCOS anytime after puberty although most women are diagnosed in their 20s or 30s when they are trying to get pregnant.
PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in women of childbearing age and can increase the risk of other health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Treating PCOS can be done based on your symptoms and if you want to have children.
Symptoms Of PCOS
- Irregular Periods: The main symptom of PCOS is irregular periods. Due to the lack of ovulation, missed periods are typical. Apart from missed periods, PCOS is often accompanied by heavy bleeding during periods and a lot of pain.
- Obesity: The majority of women with PCOS are overweight or even obese. They may also experience difficulties losing weight.
- Cysts: Many women with PCOS have fluid-filled cysts in their ovaries.
- Infertility: Women with PCOS may experience trouble trying to conceive. This is due to the decreased frequency and irregularities of ovulation. Some women may experience a lack of ovulation (anovulation)
- Acne: Due to the imbalance of hormones in the body, women with PCOS may have acne that continues way past their teenage years. This acne can be found on the back, chest, or face and is often difficult to treat.
- Hirsutism: Women with PCOS may experience abnormal hair growth on their face, arms, and abdomen. This is due to the excess amount of male hormones produced by the ovary. This hair growth is excessive and grows out thick and long. It is very common in women with PCOS and affects up to 70% of them.
- Hair Loss: Women with PCOS may experience thinning and can lose hair causing patches on their heads. Some women may start to go bald.
- Skin Tags: A skin tag is a small flap of tissue hanging off the skin. It is usually attached to the skin by a small connecting tissue and can be found on the neck, chest, armpits, under the breast, etc. They are small benign skin lesions and can be found in women with PCOS.
Risk Factors For PCOS
The main cause of PCOS is unknown although studies show that genetics play an important role. Women who have relatives that have PCOS are more at risk to be diagnosed with it. Other risk factors for PCOS include:
- High Levels Of Androgen: As earlier stated in this article, excess levels of androgens prevent ovulation which results in irregular menstrual cycles. Due to irregular ovulation, small cysts may form on the ovaries. High levels of these male hormones also trigger acne and hirsutism in women.
- Low-grade Inflammation: Low-grade inflammation is a condition where the response to diseases, injuries, and foreign bodies by the white blood cells produces a steady but low level of inflammation throughout the body. This is a deviation from the natural response of the body to infections and being in a constant state of inflammation can harm the body. Most women with PCOS tend to have low-grade inflammation.
- Insulin Resistance: Insulin is a hormone that controls the body's glucose levels by processing glucose and storing it for energy. Insulin resistance indicates that your body cannot process insulin correctly which leads to high levels of glucose in the body. These high levels of insulin increase the production of androgens. This, in turn, affects ovulation and causes other symptoms of PCOS. Being overweight can increase your risk of insulin resistance.
How Can I Prevent PCOS?
There is no proven way to prevent PCOS as the exact cause remains unknown. However, you can make conscious efforts to reduce the severity of your symptoms. Some of these steps include:
- Eating Healthy: Eating nutritious foods helps with low-grade inflammation and acne that comes with PCOS.
- Exercising Regularly: Exercising has so many benefits for the body and they also apply to PCOS. Exercising can help with losing weight and other effects of PCOS.
How Is PCOS Diagnosed?
You can be diagnosed with PCOS if you have at least two of the following:
- Confirmed excess androgen levels through a blood test
- Signs of excess androgen levels like hirsutism or acne
- Cysts on the ovary
- Missed periods or irregular periods with heavy bleeding.
Is PCOS Treatable Or Manageable?
While PCOS cannot be cured permanently, the symptoms can be managed. Your healthcare provider can determine treatment based on your medical history, symptoms, and underlying health conditions. Your doctor will determine whether the treatment would be medications, procedures, lifestyle change, or a combination, depending on whether or not you want to have children then.
These treatments include:
- Hormonal birth control
- Androgen-blocking medication
- Insulin-sensitizing medication
- Lifestyle changes
- Laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD)
What Can I Do Now?
Contact your healthcare provider if you suspect you may have PCOS or experience two or more PCOS symptoms, especially if you're a woman of reproductive age. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS there are many options for treatment like medications and lifestyle changes. These will help manage symptoms and help you get pregnant while lowering the risk of other health conditions.
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