The 1,2,3s Of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition which affects how the ovaries work and the hormone levels in a woman’s body. The ovaries are responsible for making and releasing egg s every month (called ovulation) which leads to menstruation or pregnancy if the eggs are fertilised by a sperm cell. They are also responsible for the production of hormones (chemical messengers) in a woman’s body. In women with PCOS, there is an impairment with egg production or release. There is also an increase in the number of male hormones in the body among other things.
The ovaries in women with PCOS have many fluid-filled sacs around them (called cysts) – hence the name “polycystic.”
Who is affected?
About 5 to 10 percent of women in the reproductive age group (between 15 and 44 years of age) have PCOS. A large number of women with PCOS are undiagnosed.
What Causes PCOS?
A specific cause of PCOS has not been found. It is known to be related to the abnormality in the levels of some hormone in the body such as insulin (responsible for controlling the sugar levels) and testosterone.
PCOS tends to run in families and the chances of developing it increase if a first-degree relative is diagnosed with PCOS. Women with PCOS also have high levels of male hormones and high levels of insulin.
What are the symptoms seen in women with PCOS?
Typically, women with PCOs often have a combination of symptoms (usually irregular periods, excessive hormones and enlarged ovaries) which are characteristic of the syndrome. The following are the most commonly seen symptoms in these women:
1. Menstrual disorders may begin at the start of menstruation (age 12 or 13) or later on in the 20s. This is seen as having irregular periods or no periods at all. Affected women may also experience excessive bleeding or bleeding between periods.
2. Excess male hormones which are seen as excessive hair on the chin, chest, nipple area and the abdomen. They also have acne, increased muscle mass, deepened voice, and hair loss or hair thinning.
3. Obesity: A significant number of women with PCOS are obese or prone to weight gain which leaves them at a higher risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and hypertension
4. Infertility: due to hormonal disturbances, women with PCOS only ovulate at periods, as against monthly and regular ovulation. This leads to a delay in getting pregnant or having fewer children than planned. The chances of having a miscarriage or some pregnancy complications like hypertension in pregnancy and diabetes in pregnancy are also higher with women have PCOS.
5. Diabetes Mellitus: Women with PCOS are at the risk of developing diabetes mellitus. Some of them, however, have symptoms of diabetes alongside PCOS
6. Thickened skin on the area of the neck, elbows and knuckles.
How is a diagnosis of PCOS made?
Due to the similarities between the symptoms seen in PCOS and other conditions, a diagnosis is only made after due consultation with a medical professional, a physical examination and investigations. These tests are often used to screen for PCOS and to confirm the clinical suspicions of the professional. No single test can determine the possibility of PCOS and as such, multiple tests are required.
How is PCOS treated?
Treatment for PCOS is a combination of lifestyle changes and medications because there is no cure for PCOS but the management of symptoms is necessary. At the initial period, exercising and making changes to the diet are proffered to help deal with symptoms. A key part of treatment is maintaining a healthy weight and restoring ovulatory cycles. Weight loss significantly helps improve cholesterol levels, lower insulin and reduce the risk of heart disease. A change in diet to help weight loss is also necessary.
In the event of a need for medications, hormonal contraceptive pills may be prescribed to help deal with symptoms. If there is a delay in getting pregnant, fertility drugs are often used in conjunction with weight loss strategies.