What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal problem affecting women mainly between 15-45 years. This condition mostly goes unnoticed by many women, unless they experience extreme levels of pain, fatigue and other symptoms. Impacting women mostly in their childbearing stages, PCOS can greatly impact their chances of getting pregnant. As a majority of women often get diagnosed with PCOS quite later in life, it disrupts their normal menstrual cycle and therefore their chances of getting pregnant naturally.
In polycystic ovary syndrome, cysts or small fluid-containing sacs grow in the ovaries. This is what gives the condition its name, as polycystic means “multiple cysts.” The many sacs in the ovaries contain an immature egg, which will never develop properly to become a fertile egg. PCOS is also associated with higher levels of male hormones and irregular periods. The major causes of PCOS reflect fluctuating hormones and unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles (x).
Also known as the Stein-Leventhal syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome affects 8-20 percent of women worldwide in their reproductive years and is often found to be the leading cause of infertility and other problems. If one is diagnosed with PCOS, then she is also at high risk of developing associated diseases like insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, heart attack and high blood pressure.
Mostly, the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome go unattended. By the time they are diagnosed, it is often too late. The majority of PCOS symptoms are caused by enormous levels of androgens in the body — the main one being testosterone. While there are small amounts of androgens in all women, in some, the levels are higher, leading to PCOS. This condition, in turn, leads to lower ovulation levels and irregular periods. The most common symptoms of PCOS are described below:
One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is irregular periods. This absence/irregularity in periods can be a result of high androgens levels and insulin. In women with PCOS, as the gap between periods lengthens, their ovulation may stop entirely while some women can experience heavy/light bleeding during their periods (x).
Women who are trying to conceive are often diagnosed with PCOS as low fertility is a common symptom of this condition. As the ovulation becomes irregular with PCOS, the production of eggs comes down drastically in women, thus causing low fertility. This can be a major cause of concern among women trying to get pregnant (x).
Another symptom of PCOS is excess hair. This condition is known as hirsutism. This usually occurs due to the high androgen levels in the body. The excess hair is usually thicker and darker and grows in areas like the sideburn region, chin and upper lip, lower abdomen, chest and thighs. Nearly 60 percent of women suffering from PCOS have this condition, which is one of the most visible symptoms of PCOS (x).
Excessive Hair Loss
Excessive hair loss is possible as well. The high male hormone levels in the female body often lead to hair loss and thinning of the scalp, just like how it occurs in men — hair loss from the front, etc. This condition is, in medical terms, known as alopecia (x).
The high levels of androgens in the female body can also increase the size of the oil production glands present in the skin, which can lead to more acne. This condition is usually present in young women, but those suffering from PCOS tend to have more acne (x).
Anxiety and Depression
The PCOS condition is likely to have psychological effects on the affected women as well. About 29 percent of women with PCOS are likely to have anxiety attacks. These changes are due to hormonal imbalances caused by PCOS (x).
If a person is experiencing any or some of the symptoms mentioned above, then she must immediately consult a doctor as these could be the symptoms of PCOS. A delayed diagnosis of PCOS can lead to many health problems and also cause stress. Timely detection of PCOS can help you to gain control over your health problems and lead a healthy lifestyle, thus keeping PCOS at bay.
Causes of PCOS
High Androgen Levels
Also known as male hormones, androgens are one of the main reasons PCOS occurs. Usually, women produce small amounts of androgens, but those with PCOS produce more than normal, which affects their ovulation and menstrual cycle and can cause excess hair growth and more acne (x).
Increased Insulin Levels
Insulin is a very important hormone of the body as it controls the way the food we eat converts into energy. When the body does not normally respond to insulin, your insulin blood sugar levels escalate. This condition is one of the reasons why women develop PCOS, which can lead to type 2 diabetes (x).
Genetics is one of the leading causes of polycystic ovary syndrome among women all over the world. If any of your family members have PCOS, then the chances of you developing the condition are high. Women with family members having PCOS inherit the risk of the condition more than women who do not have PCOS history (x).
Polycystic ovary syndrome is often a direct correlation of modern-day sedentary lifestyles. With increasing obesity and little movement, more women are developing PCOS and experiencing menstrual changes and infertility.
Treating Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
As of now, modern medicine has not yet found a cure for polycystic ovary syndrome, so any treatment recommended will be for resulting conditions like infertility, obesity and acne, among others. The most commonly suggested treatment options are lifestyle changes and certain medicines.
The best cure for PCOS is to foster different changes to your lifestyle. An active lifestyle, including weight loss through a low-calorie diet, will definitely help counter your PCOS problems and thus go a long way in solving your fertility problems. If you are overweight and struggling with PCOS issues, then try to lose weight (x).
While there are no specific medicines for PCOS, doctors may recommend medicines for different related issues like irregular periods and reduced ovulation, among others. Learn more about these medicines below:
Birth Control Pills
To correct the irregular menstrual cycle of women with PCOS, doctors may prescribe birth control pills, which contain estrogen and progestin to bring down the levels of androgen. These birth control pills can control unnatural bleeding, excess hair growth and acne. Women can also make use of a skin patch/vaginal ring, which includes a mix of estrogen and progestin (x).
Another way of controlling the irregular menstrual cycle is by taking progestin tablets. The doctor may recommend a dosage of progestin for 10-14 days every 1-2 months to streamline the periods and safeguard against endometrial cancer. The tablets, however, have no impact against the high androgen levels (x).
Supplements for PCOS
Maca Root Extract
Since some who experience PCOS suffer from insulin resistance, it’s possible that supplementing with magnesium could help ease the condition (x). It isn’t uncommon for those with diabetes to have low levels of magnesium in their system. Thankfully, supplementing with magnesium can render that concern null and void.
The Bottom Line
Polycystic ovary syndrome has no cure. Therefore, it is difficult to deal with, physically and mentally. If you are experiencing irregular periods, excess hair growth and acne problems, consult your doctor. Early detection of PCOS will help, and early treatment can help women overcome this condition.
For women trying to conceive, early detection of PCOS is paramount as medicines and injections may be administered. Those who with PCOS should always keep themselves engaged, maintain a healthy diet and undertake some form of exercise to keep themselves healthy.