What is polycystic ovary syndrome?
In simple terms, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a relatively common hormonal problem that affects a woman’s menstrual function and fertility. It is estimated that between 6-20% of women of childbearing age have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
There are three criteria used to diagnose PCOS and to be diagnosed there needs to be two of them present to confirm the diagnosis
- Menstrual irregularity due to infrequent or absent ovulation. This lack of ovulation leads to irregular, infrequent or even absent periods. When they occur, they can then be prolonged, heavy and painful.
- Polycystic Ovaries. With an ultrasound scan the ovaries can be seen to be containing many (about 10 or even more) small follicles. Due to the hormonal changes in the ovary associated with PCOS, the dominant follicle (which releases the egg at ovulation) isn’t able to develop as easily as it should. The smaller follicles continue to produce varying levels of hormones and they almost never grow to maturity or produce eggs to be fertilized.It’s important to remember that the ultrasound images showing polycystic ovaries doesn’t on its own confirm that she has PCOS.
- Excess androgens (male type hormones) either on blood test or evident by symptoms (acne, excess facial or chest hair etc). It’s commonplace to find that women living with PCOS have high levels of either androgens (male hormones) or insulin or even both and insulin resistance is believed to be one of the major factors influencing this syndrome.
Nobody knows for sure what causes this syndrome. While PCOS occurs in some women when they’re overweight, it runs in the family for others.
PCOS and its symptoms
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome has quite a lot of symptoms that vary in appearance. A few of them include acne, difficulty falling pregnant, increased hair growth, irregular periods or no periods at all.
Hormonal fluctuations might cause challenges with sugar metabolism that leads to weight gain and by extension a higher possibility of having gestational diabetes when pregnant. Some women also experience heavy but infrequent periods that come with bloating, tenderness and pain.
How can PCOS be tested for?
The presence of many small follicles can be revealed with an ultrasound scan. History and examination can give information regarding ovulation and excess male hormones. Blood tests can check for the levels of androgens and confirm whether ovulation is occurring.
Is there a cure for PCOS?
Although there is currently no cure, PCOS like many other health issues requires early detection for the success of the treatments. Lifestyle factors and early detection are the most important factors for improving the symptoms, signs, and fertility of a woman living with PCOS.
How do you treat PCOS?
Depending on the main issues a woman is experiencing, there are some helpful options to consider
- For those who are overweight, weight loss has a very beneficial effect on restoring regular periods in obese women and balancing hormones. Although it might be a difficult route to follow, a change of diet and exercise would have a tangible impact.
- The use of insulin sensitizers help to reduce the effect of insulin resistance and help the body in losing weight.
- In a bid to stimulate the ovaries, it’s sometimes advised (by medical practitioners only) to use ovulation-inducing drugs to assist with conception.
- Also important but often ignored is the psychological support women need when experiencing PCOS. Having a counselor or a psychologist will be of great value to helping her overcome and manage PCOS.
Finally, early detection of PCOS is almost as important as knowing what to do when it’s detected. It helps hinder or reduce the possibility of the development of serious long-term health issues like diabetes so it pays to be observant, proactive and decisive.
This article is written to be informative and does not substitute seeking a professional consultation from a medical professional.