In this article we explore the ins and outs of PCOS. Learn about the signs, causes, and treatment options for this common hormonal condition.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. In fact, PCOS is the most common endocrine condition in women of reproductive age. It is characterized by a combination of symptoms, including irregular menstrual periods, excess androgen (male hormone) levels, and enlarged ovaries that contain small collections of fluid (follicles), located in each ovary as seen during an ultrasound exam.

PCOS is associated with long term metabolic and psychological conditions such as diabetes, depression, and CVD (cardiovascular disease). It is a chronic condition with potential long lasting effects on a woman’s life.

PCOS is a health problem that can affect a woman’s:

  • Menstrual cycle
  • Ability to have children.
  • Hormones
  • Heart
  • Blood vessels
  • Appearan

Rotterdam definition: If you have 2 out of three of the following:

  • Clinical or biochemical hyperandrogenism. Androgens are sometimes called male hormones, though females also make them.
  • Anovulation (chronic or oligo) which is defined as having less than 10 menstrual cycles in a year (> 35 days intervals between menstruations) or evidence of the lack of ovulation despite regular menstruation.
  • Polycystic ovaries on ultrasound – Many small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in their ovaries.

What causes PCOS?

The main underlying problem with PCOS is a hormonal imbalance. In women with PCOS, the ovaries make more androgens than normal. High levels of these hormones affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation.

The exact cause of PCOS is not fully understood, but research shows that it involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Insulin resistance, a condition in which the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, is often associated with PCOS. This can lead to high levels of insulin in the blood, which in turn can stimulate the ovaries to produce more androgens.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

The symptoms of PCOS can vary among individuals, but common signs and symptoms include:

  • Irregular periods: Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual cycles, or they may experience heavy or light bleeding.
  • Infertility (not able to get pregnant) due to anovulation. In fact, PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility.
  • Excess androgen levels: Elevated levels of androgens can cause symptoms such as acne, oily skin, dandruff, and excess hair growth (hirsutism), particularly on the face, chest, and abdomen.
  • Polycystic ovaries: On ultrasound imaging, the ovaries of women with PCOS may appear enlarged and contain multiple small cysts. However, not all women with PCOS have polycystic ovaries, and the presence of cysts alone is not sufficient for diagnosis.

Other possible symptoms and complications associated with PCOS include:

  • Weight gain or obesity, usually with extra weight around the waist.
  • Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair.
  • Patches of skin on the neck, arms, breasts, or thighs that are thick and dark brown or black.
  • Skin tags: excess flaps of skin in the armpits or neck area.

How is PCOS diagnosed?

Diagnosis of PCOS is typically based on a combination of clinical symptoms, a physical examination, and laboratory tests to assess hormone levels, blood sugar levels, and other relevant markers.

What are the possible consequences of having PCOS?

PCOS may increase the risk of the following, especially if obesity is also a factor:

  • Anxiety or depression (mood swings): Increased concerned about weight and dieting.
  • Sleep apnea
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver
  • Eating disorders (Emotional eating)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Gestational DM
  • Type 2 DM
  • Hypertension
  • Dyslipidaemia

How is PCOS treated?

To reduce long term cardiovascular and diabetes risk and improve quality of life, various treatment options should be considered. Lifestyle modification focusing on dietary weight loss, increased physical activity, patient education and empowerment is the preferred first-line treatment for PCOS.

In addition, treatment could include medications to regulate menstrual cycles or manage specific symptoms, and fertility treatments for those trying to conceive. It is important for women with PCOS to work with healthcare professionals to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses their specific symptoms and concerns.

Many PCOS patients believe they cannot lose weight as easily as  women who do not have PCOS, but research shows that women with PCOS have equal ability in terms of energy metabolism to lose weight as women without PCOS. They just need support and encouragement.

Finding effective ways to manage PCOS is crucial for long-term health and quality of life. By implementing a comprehensive treatment plan, you can mitigate the potential risks and complications associated with PCOS. Don’t miss next months article on healthy eating with PCOS, where we’ll share practical tips and guidance to support women in their journey towards better health.

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