PCOS is a health condition in women associated by imbalances in reproductive hormones that cause irregular menstrual periods and infertility, as well as other health problems. Some women find out that they have this kind of disorder during unsuccessful attempts of getting pregnant. Although there is no cure for this disorder, seeking medical treatment is crucial in order to manage its symptoms for lower chances of developing other risks and health problems in women.
PCOS: Polycystic Ovarian / Ovary Syndrome
The “polycystic” in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is quite misleading. It does not necessarily mean that multiple cysts are present or are being formed on women’s ovaries. In fact, many women don’t have cysts on their ovaries. PCOS is a hormonal condition which can be morphological, characterized by small cysts on one or both ovaries, or biochemical, referring to excess androgen or the male sex hormones levels specifically the testosterone. Testosterone is the key male sex hormone, although it also found in women in much lesser amounts. This elevated androgen levels actually causes the irregularities in menstruation affecting millions of women worldwide.
Hormonal Imbalance and PCOS
The main cause of PCOS is not yet known. However, it is often associated with the action and increase secretion of insulin. Insulin causes the body to absorb blood sugar or glucose into the cells for energy to perform specific roles including ovarian functions. In the case of polycystic ovarian syndrome, the ovaries can’t respond to insulin properly which increases the body’s need for insulin and causes more of its secretion. As a response to this excess level of insulin, the ovaries produce more androgens, inhibiting ovulation from happening. Meaning, the release of eggs from the ovaries which is significant part of fertility in the female reproductive cycle won’t occur, leading to infertility in women.
Other hormones involved in ovarian functions are the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). FSH stimulates the production of a follicle containing the egg and LH causes the release of a mature ovum or egg. Increased levels of these hormones may lead to abnormalities in the ovaries that can affect ovulation.
Is PCOS hereditary?
A lot of researches suggest that there are specific genes that are possibly linked to PCOS. However, they are not identified yet. What is known is that, polycystic ovarian syndrome sometimes runs in the family.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
The symptoms of PCOS vary in women and it can be manifested at any age after puberty stage. However, some cases of PCOS are asymptomatic and varies in terms of severity. The most common signs and symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome are the following:
- Enlarged ovaries with small cysts
- Irregular menstruation or no periods at all
- Weight gain
- Pelvic pain
- Mood changes
- Even sleep problems
- Darkening of skin
- Thinning of hair or loss of hair from the head
- Hair growth in unwanted areas (hirsutism) such as chin, breasts, arms, chest, thumbs
Based on a study, there is a high percentage of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome does not even know that they have it. They should be assessing themselves and if they are experiencing some or several of the symptoms especially issues on menstruation, acne, hirsutism, and male-pattern baldness, they should seek a medical attention immediately for early treatment.
A number of physical exams such as blood pressure monitoring, body mass index determination, expert observation for unwanted hair formation, acne and skin discoloration, checking for enlarged ovaries through pelvic exam, and sonogram to test for polycystic ovaries are used in order to diagnose PCOS. Blood tests are also conducted to see the levels of androgen in the blood and to screen for diabetes.
As basis of medical doctors in the diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome, a patient has PCOS when she is positive for at least two out of the three criteria. First is the confirmed irregularity of menstrual period, indicating that the ovaries do not release eggs monthly. Second is when the blood tests show high androgen levels, and third is when the scans are observed to have polycystic ovaries.
Incurable: Women living with polycystic ovarian syndrome
Positive for PCOS? No need to worry because the symptoms brought about by the disorder are manageable for lower risks and complications. The referred medical specialist for polycystic ovarian syndrome is either a gynecologist who is specialized in the health of the female reproductive system or an endocrinologist who treats people with conditions that are hormone-related.
It is important that a good communication with the doctor is established in order to come up with the best treatment plan depending on which specific symptom is being prioritized or the goal of the patient diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Also, stick to the plan. Here are some of those:
It is obvious that living a healthy lifestyle is one of the first steps to reduce the risks of PCOS. This includes losing excess weight through regular exercise and also, a balanced diet – incorporating wide selection of foods in proper amounts and limiting from food that causes high blood glucose such as sugary foods for a healthier body weight. A healthy lifestyle could help improve fertility and regularity of menstrual cycle.
Hormones and medication
For women who are not trying to get pregnant, birth control methods are the most common treatment. It ranges from pills, shots, hormonal intrauterine device (IUD), and others that can help menstruation to occur on a more regular basis. These may also reduce the risk of having endometrial cancer and can treat acne and hirsutism.
And for those whose who want to get pregnant, medications such as clomifene, metformin, and many others are recommended specifically for the monthly occurrence of ovulation and reduction of blood sugar levels, respectively.
Pregnant women are also advised to take folic acid to protect the carried babies against birth defects. Folic acid is a form of a vitamin B which can be get from fruits and green leafy vegetables.
Surgical treatment called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) is also an option to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome. Ovarian drilling destroys the tissue that produces the androgens by making use of lasers or needles. This would lower the testosterone level and balance the other hormones involved in the reproductive system of female in order to perform normal ovarian functions.