PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is a condition that affects women of reproductive age and is characterized by abnormal hormonal imbalances. Women with PCOS have higher-than-average levels of male hormones (androgen). This hormone imbalance causes irregular menstrual cycles, making it more difficult for them to conceive.
As the name suggests, women with PCOS develop "poly" or several cysts (tiny fluid-filled sacs) in their ovaries. These cysts contain immature eggs that never mature enough to ovulate. The absence of ovulation causes changes in estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH levels. Progesterone levels get lower, while androgens are higher than usual.
The high androgen levels suppress ovulation, cause excessive hair to grow on the face and body, and may result in male-pattern baldness.
Symptoms of PCOS
The most common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular/fewer periods.
- Heavy menstrual bleeding.
- Excessive hair growth on the face, back, chest, and belly.
- Hair loss with male-pattern baldness.
- Weight gain.
- Darkening of the skin, especially at body creases in the neck, groin, and breasts.
Causes of PCOS
The exact cause of PCOS is unclear, but it is seen in women with higher androgen levels and is linked to genes, insulin resistance, and inflammation.
Genes: PCOS has been found to run in families and is thought to be genetically linked.
Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance is seen in up to 70% of women with PCOS. When cells cannot use insulin effectively, the body's demand for insulin rises. To make up for it, the pancreas produces more insulin. Extra insulin activates the ovaries to produce excess male hormones, contributing to PCOS.
Inflammation: Excess inflammation has been linked to higher androgen levels. Women with PCOS are more prone to increased inflammation in the body.
When to See a Doctor?
Consult a physician if there are symptoms of irregular periods, heavy menstrual bleeding, or hair growth on the face, chest, or belly.
If already diagnosed with PCOS, check-ups at regular intervals are recommended to rule out the development of complications such as diabetes, hypertension, etc.
- Heavy or prolonged periods.
- Weight gain.
- Higher risk of endometrial hyperplasia and endometrial cancer.
- Increased chance of blood clots in the veins, heart attack, or stroke.
- Sleep apnea.
Treatment For PCOS
PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) is usually treated using one of the following approaches:
Medications: Birth control pills containing progestin are often given to PCOS/PCOD patients to balance hormones, regulate ovulation, and protect against endometrial cancer. Metformin, an anti-diabetic drug, is also commonly given to control insulin levels that help restore a normal menstrual cycle. Clomiphene, a fertility drug, is also given if the patient is trying to get pregnant.
Surgery: If a patient suffering from PCOS cannot conceive with medical treatment, surgery can be recommended where ovarian drilling is done with the help of a laser to promote ovulation.
Lifestyle Changes: Losing weight if the patient is overweight, eating a healthy diet that's low in processed foods and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and exercising regularly are recommended for PCOS/PCOD patients for better symptom control.
PCOS is a condition that can interfere with activities of daily living because of irregular, painful, and heavy menstrual periods. For overweight women, weight loss of even 5% to 10% can improve the symptoms of PCOS. Weight loss can be achieved with a healthy diet and regular aerobic exercises.
It can be frustrating when multiple attempts to conceive fail, and the most fertile ovulation days cannot be predicted due to irregular periods. Additionally, women with PCOS are more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease in the long run. Thus, it is essential to take treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome.
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Yes, most women with PCOS can conceive naturally with the help of treatment and guidance from their healthcare provider.
PCOS can be diagnosed with the help of symptoms such as irregular and heavy periods, hair growth on the face, chest, or belly, family history, and high levels of androgen on a blood test. A pelvic ultrasound is also done to look for polycystic ovaries to establish the diagnosis of PCOS.
PCOS cannot be cured, but it can be kept under control. Its symptoms can be managed with the help of medications, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a low-carb, nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and staying physically active.
Foods with high sugar content, such as sweets, colas, sugary drinks, processed foods, and fried foods, should be avoided in PCOS as they increase inflammation in the body and also causes weight gain.
Leafy green vegetables, unprocessed foods, fatty fish, high-fiber foods, dark red fruits such as cherry, red grapes, blueberries, broccoli, cauliflower, etc, are considered good foods for PCOS.