Disclaimer: The information contained herein are for educational purposes only and are not intended to offer personal medical advice. Please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
The menstrual cycle of women is brought on by normal changing levels of hormone in the body that can lead to a series of symptoms each month. Many women are aware of this normal hormonal changes which makes it so easy for them to brush off and put up with any hormone-related symptoms that can occur. However, what many don’t know is that hormonal changes can be quite serious in some women. Case in point: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
What is PCOS?
PCOS is one of the most common hormonal disorders among women of childbearing age that is characterized by an imbalance of certain reproductive hormones.
Women with PCOS have higher-than-normal levels of androgens (male hormone) that can interfere with ovulation (the release of mature egg from the ovary) and cause a number of physical symptoms. They are also often insulin resistant, which means that the insulin produced by their body are not being used effectively. This is the reason why many women with PCOS are at-risk for Type 2 Diabetes.
What causes PCOS?
The root cause of PCOS is still unknown, but genetics and environment are thought to play a part in its development. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women whose mother or sister has PCOS or Type 2 diabetes are more likely to have PCOS.
Why should you be concerned?
PCOS can take a toll on many aspects of a woman’s life; it can affect the menstrual cycle, complexion, weight, and ability to have children. It is the most common cause of anovulatory infertility among women – the infertility that results from the absence of ovulation. In fact, 70-80% of women with PCOS have trouble getting pregnant.
Left untreated, PCOS can also lead to the following health problems in the long run, especially among overweight women.
- Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus
- Gestational diabetes (diabetes when pregnant)
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- Sleep apnea
The sad reality about PCOS is that many women with this condition do not know they have it and some only learns that they have PCOS when they begin having difficulty getting pregnant and decide to seek professional help.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
PCOS presents itself in different ways among women of childbearing age. The symptoms of PCOS may include:
- Irregular menstrual periods, very heavy periods, or no periods at all
- Cysts (fluid-filled sacs) on one or both ovaries
- Infertility (trouble getting pregnant)
- Excess or unwanted hair growth on the face and body
- Thinning hair on your scalp
- Weight gain or obesity, often around the waist
- Skin problems: Acne on the chest, back, and face; Skin tags – small flaps of excess skin – on the neck and armpits; dark, thick patches of skin on the neck, armpits, or groin, or under the breasts
- Depression or anxiety
- Poor sleep
It should be noted that women with PCOS can experience different sets of symptoms. Some women will still have regular monthly cycle and do not even develop cysts. Plenty of women with the disorder also don't show any signs of weight gain. In addition, while infertility is a telltale sign of PCOS, many women do not have trouble getting pregnant at all and can still conceive on their own or with the help of fertility treatments.
What are the treatment options?
The goal of treatment for PCOS depend on several factors such as the symptoms and plans of becoming pregnant in the future. The treatment is also geared towards lowering chances of long-term health problems such as Diabetes and Heart Disease.
Treatment options can include:
- Birth control pills. This is usually the first treatment for most women to help regulate periods, reduce male hormone levels in the blood, reduce excessive hair growth, and improve skin condition (reduction of acne).
- Lifestyle changes. Overweight women with PCOS are advised to lose weight by exercising and eating a healthy, low-calorie diet. Weight loss lowers the risk of long-term complications like diabetes and heart disease. It can also improve menstrual function and may help some women ovulate naturally.
- Metformin. This medicine helps lower blood sugar levels and is prescribed for women with PCOS who have pre-diabetes or diabetes and who cannot lose weight through lifestyle changes. Metformin can also help menstrual cycles become more regular. Since Metformin does not prevent pregnancy, it may be an option for women who cannot or do not want to take birth control pill.
- Fertility drugs. This medication is most often the first treatment for women who do not ovulate and want to get pregnant.
There is no cure for PCOS, but with proper treatment and lifestyle changes, you can improve most of your symptoms and reduce your chance of developing health problems associated with it. Ask your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.