Understanding Polycystic Ovary Syndrome ( PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine system disorder that affects women in their reproductive years.

It causes disruption in ovulatory and menstrual cycles, with an excess production of male type hormones- all of which contribute to infertility. PCOS are likely to be caused due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

PCOS can be associated with a number of complications like insulin resistance type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and high blood pressure. If not treated in time, PCOS can cause serious health complications in their reproductive health.

This article looks at the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of PCOS.

Understanding PCOS

Most women with PCOS grow a number of small cysts, or fluid-filled sacs, on their ovaries.

pcos

Image source:         MANJ.com

The cysts are not harmful, but they can lead to an imbalance in hormone levels.

Of the many health conditions associated with PCOS, it mainly causes infertility in women –  as it can prevent ovulation and reduces the chances of conceiving.

Even  if women do conceive with the presence of PCOS, they have higher chances of developing complications associated with pregnancy such as miscarriage, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and premature delivery.

Risk factors

The risk factors of PCOS aren’t identified. But the incidence of risk of PCOS are vaguely related with that of genes, Insulin resistance and stress.

  1. Genes: PCOS is thought to have a genetic component. A research study states that women with a family history of PCOS are 20-40% more likely to get affected with it.
  2. Insulin Resistance: PCOS isn’t only about infertility; it causes major metabolic problems, too. Women with PCOS are more likely to have insulin resistance if they’re overweight, inactive, or have an unhealthy diet. However, there is also no clear evidence of the fact whether insulin resistance causes PCOS development, or if it’s the PCOS that leads to insulin resistance.

Associated health risks

There are several health risks associated with PCOS.

These include:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • infertility
  • high cholesterol
  • elevated lipids
  • sleep apnea
  • liver disease
  • abnormal uterine bleeding
  • high blood pressure
  • obesity possibly leading to issues with low self-esteem and depression
  • metabolic syndrome
  • nonalcoholic fatty liver (steatohepatitis)
  • depression and anxiety

Also, there is an increased risk of endometrial, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure,heart attacks and miscarriage.

Symptoms

Apart from the formation of cysts on the ovaries, the  symptoms of PCOS include:

  • irregular menses
  • excess androgen levels
  • sleep apnea
  • skin tags
  • infertility
  • acne, oily skin and dandruff
  • high cholesterol
  • male pattern balding
  • insulin resistance
  • type 2 diabetes
  • pelvic pain
  • depression and anxiety
  • decreased libido

Tests and diagnosis

A doctor can diagnose the condition through medical history, a physical exam that includes a pelvic exam, and blood tests to measure hormone, cholesterol, and glucose levels.An ultrasound may be used to look at the uterus and ovaries.

Treatment

Though a definitive cure for PCOS is yet to be ascertained-  currently managing the  symptoms that affect an individual is the mainstay of treatment. Once the symptoms abate, slowly  it reduces the risk of PCOS. However, it’s also important to evaluate the purpose for treatment of PCOS- whether the individual wants to become pregnant or is it to reduce the risk of secondary medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

There are several recommended treatment options, including:

Birth control pills: These can help regulate hormones and menstruation.

Diabetes medications: These help manage diabetes, if necessary.

Fertility medications: If pregnancy is desired,  follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) medications are recommended.

Fertility treatments: These include in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or inseminations.

Surgical options include:

  • Ovarian drilling:Tiny holes are made in the ovaries that can reduce the levels of androgens being produced.
  • Oophorectomy: This Surgery aims in removing one or both ovaries.
  • Hysterectomy:This involves removal of the uterus.
  • Cyst aspiration:Fluid is removed from the cyst.

Lifestyle changes

There is no cure for PCOS, but some home and lifestyle interventions can make a difference and relieve some symptoms.

These include:

    • eating a healthy, well-balanced diet including plenty of fruits and vegetables
    • exercise regularly
    • maintaining a healthy weight in order to reduce androgen levels and reduce the risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease
    • not smoking, as this increases levels of androgens and the risk of heart disease

Diet and PCOs

Women with PCOS are often found to have higher than normal insulin levels. If you don’t produce enough insulin, your blood sugar levels can rise. This can also happen if you’re insulin resistant, meaning you aren’t able to use the insulin you do produce effectively.

In such cases, your body may try to pump out high levels of insulin in an effort to keep your blood sugar levels normal. Too-high levels of insulin can cause your ovaries to produce more androgens, such as testosterone.
A diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as starchy and sugary foods, can make insulin resistance, and therefore weight loss, more difficult to control.

The bottom line

If you’re coping with PCOS or any of its symptoms, you may feel frustrated at times. Taking proactive steps regarding your health can improve your mood as well as reduce your symptoms. If your symptoms persist, speak with your doctor. They can work with you to identify the cause and recommend next steps.

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