PCOS: A Conversation You Should Be Having Right Now
Polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS is a condition that affects a large number of women, acting on not only their reproductive health, but their metabolic and psychological health as well.
Termed as a combination of symptoms rather than a disease per se, PCOS is a complex disorder that affects your hormonal balance in the reproductive years. This imbalance leads to irregular periods, increased level of male hormones, ovarian cysts, and insulin resistance.
You’re not alone
PCOS is the most common reproductive condition that affects women between the age of 15 and 45. A recent study found that 20% to 25% of women of reproductive age suffer from PCOS, which makes every third or fourth woman susceptible to it
Mothers are five times more likely to pass on the risk of PCOS to their daughters at some point in their life. Other than hereditary factors such as stress, unhealthy eating habits, and lack of physical activities also contribute to the rise of PCOS in young women.
You should consult your gynecologist regularly to manage the risk of such complications. It’s important to note that although PCOS is not a curable condition, several treatment options are available to manage it.
What happens in PCOS?
During ovulation, a mature egg is released from the ovary. If the egg does not undergo fertilization, it is removed from the body through menstruation. Hormones play an important role in this process of ovulation.
In some cases, due to an imbalance of these hormones, ovulation does not happen. In the absence of ovulation, fluid-filled sacs called cysts may develop in the ovaries. These cysts release androgens, also called male hormones. Although, normally women do have small amounts of androgen, in PCOS the levels may be high. This affects the menstrual cycle, causing some of the symptoms associated with PCOS.
When should you be concerned?
There are a few signs of PCOS that you should look out for. Consult your gynecologist without delay if they appear.
1. Approximately 60% of women report irregular periods and anovulatory (no ovulation) symptoms such as amenorrhea (absence of flow), oligomenorrhea (irregular flow), and menorrhagia (excessive flow). However, these could be due to various external or internal factors as well.
2. If you’ve noticed excessive hair growth on your face and body (hirsutism), it could be due to an increase in androgen levels. Other dermatologic conditions include acne and androgenic alopecia (hair loss).
3. The body becomes incapable of utilizing insulin, a hormone that is produced by the pancreas and helps maintain blood glucose levels. Insulin resistance makes your cells incapable of responding to the effects of insulin, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
How can you manage PCOS?
PCOS is a lifelong underlying condition, but the symptoms can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes. Here’s what you can do to keep it under control.
Weight loss and exercise
Weight loss is a primary intervention, which is backed by science. A reduction of 5%–10% of body weight with monitored calorie intake and exercise improves metabolic syndrome. It regulates ovulation and menstrual cycle. It also reduces lipid levels, insulin resistance, and the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
A nutritious diet that includes healthy fat sources from nuts and seeds, complex carbohydrates from whole grains and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables along with moderate to high protein intake can help improve symptoms of PCOS. Complementing your diet with physical activity can also improve overall health.
For treating menstrual irregularities and hyperandrogenism (excessive levels of androgens in women), your physician might prescribe combined oral contraceptive pills (COCP). These are estrogen and progestin preparations used to treat the condition’s clinical manifestations. But they cannot be an alternative to lifestyle changes.
Managing hirsutism and acne
Physical hair removal methods such as shaving, waxing, or plucking are efficient in managing hair growth. Acne treatment can be started after consultation with a dermatologist.
Remember, PCOS is a condition that is manageable through smart lifestyle choices and by keeping a check on your overall health, including your psychological well-being. It all begins with self-care.