Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects a woman’s hormone levels.
Women with PCOS produce higher-than-normal amounts of male hormones.
This hormone imbalance induces them to skip the menstrual cycle and makes it harder for them to get pregnant.
PCOS also causes hair growth on the body and face and hair loss. And it may contribute to long-term health issues like diabetes and heart disease.
Contraceptive pills and diabetes medications can help mend the endocrine imbalance and improve symptoms.
Read on to get a look at the causes of PCOS and its effects on a woman’s body.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS is a problem with hormones that affects women during their reproductive years (ages 15 to 44). Between 2.2 and 26.7 percent of women in this age, the category has PCOS.
Many women have PCOS but do not know it. In one study, up to 70 percent of women with PCOS had not been diagnosed.
PCOS impacts a woman’s ovaries, the reproductive organs which produce progesterone and estrogen, hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle.
The ovaries also produce a small number of male hormones called androgens.
The ovaries release eggs to be fertilized by a man’s sperm. The launch of an egg per month is called ovulation.
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) control ovulation.
FSH stimulates the uterus to make a follicle — a sac that contains an egg and then LH triggers the uterus to release a mature egg.
PCOS is a “syndrome” or group of symptoms that affect the ovaries and ovulation. Its three main features are:
- Cysts in the ovaries
- high levels of male hormones
- irregular or skipped periods
In PCOS, many small, fluid-filled sacs grow inside the ovaries. The word “polycystic” means “many cysts.”
These sacs are in reality follicles, each containing an immature egg. The eggs never mature enough to trigger ovulation.
The absence of ovulation alters levels of estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH.
Estrogen and progesterone levels are lower than normal, while androgen levels are higher than normal.
Extra male hormones disrupt the menstrual cycle, so women with PCOS get fewer periods than normal.
PCOS isn’t a brand new condition. Italian doctor Antonio Vallisneri first described its symptoms in 1721.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects almost 27 percent of women during their childbearing years. It involves cysts in the uterus, high levels of male hormones, and irregular intervals.
What causes PCOS?
Doctors do not know just what causes PCOS. They believe that high levels of male hormones prevent the ovaries from producing hormones and making eggs normally.
Genes, insulin resistance, and inflammation have been connected to excessive androgen production.
Studies show that PCOS runs in families.
It’s very likely that many genes — not just one — contribute to the illness.
Up to 70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance, meaning that their cells can not use insulin properly.
Insulin is a hormone that the pancreas produces to help the body use sugar from foods for energy.
When cells can’t use insulin properly, the body’s demand for insulin raises. Extra insulin triggers the ovaries to produce more hormones.
Obesity is a major cause of insulin resistance. Both obesity and insulin resistance may increase your risk for type 2 diabetes.
Women with PCOS frequently have elevated levels of inflammation in their bodies. Being obese can also give rise to inflammation. Studies have linked excessive inflammation to higher androgen levels.
Doctors do not know just what causes PCOS. They think it stems from factors such as genes, insulin resistance, and high degrees of inflammation within the body.
Symptoms of PCOS:
Some women begin seeing symptoms around the time of their first period. Others just discover they’ve PCOS after they have gained a lot of weight or they’ve had trouble getting pregnant.
The most common PCOS symptoms are:
Irregular periods. Too little ovulation prevents the uterine lining from shedding monthly. Some women with PCOS get less than eight periods a year.
Heavy bleeding. The uterine lining builds up for a longer time period, therefore the periods you do get can be thicker than normal.
Hair Development. More than 70 percent of women with this condition grow hair on their body and face — including on their own back, belly, and chest. Excessive hair growth is called hirsutism.
Acne. Male hormones can produce the skin oilier than normal and cause breakouts on areas like the face, torso, and upper spine.
Weight gain. Up to 80 percent of women with PCOS are overweight or obese
Male-pattern baldness. The hair on the scalp gets thinner and falls out.
Darkening of skin. Dark patches of skin can cause body creases like people around the neck, at the groin, and under the breasts.
Headaches. Hormone changes can cause or trigger headaches in some women.
PCOS can disrupt the menstrual cycle, leading to fewer periods. Acne, hair growth, weight reduction, and dark skin spots are other indicators of the condition.
How PCOS affects your body:
Having higher-than-normal androgen levels can affect your fertility and other aspects of your health.
To get pregnant, you need to ovulate. Women who don’t ovulate regularly don’t release as many eggs to be fertilized. PCOS is one of the top causes of infertility in women.
As much as 80 percent of women with PCOS are overweight or obese. Both obesity and PCOS increase your risk for high blood sugar, high blood pressure, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and higher LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Collectively, these variables are called metabolic syndrome, and they increase the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
This condition causes repeated pauses in breathing during the night, which breaks in sleep.
Sleep apnea is more common in women who are overweight — especially if they also have PCOS. The risk for sleep apnea is 5 to 10 times higher in overweight women with PCOS than in people without PCOS.
During ovulation, the uterine lining sheds. If you don’t ovulate each month, the liner can create up.
A thickened uterine lining may increase your risk for endometrial cancer.
Both hormonal changes and symptoms like unwanted hair development can negatively influence your emotions. Many with PCOS end up experiencing depression and nervousness.
Hormone imbalances can impact a woman’s health in many ways. PCOS can raise the risk for infertility, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, endometrial cancer, and depression.
How PCOS is diagnosed:
Doctors typically diagnose PCOS in women who have two of those 3 symptoms:
- high androgen levels
- irregular menstrual cycles
- cysts in the ovaries
Your doctor should also ask if you have had symptoms like acne, face and body hair growth, and weight gain.
A pelvic exam (physical examination of a woman’s reproductive organs) can try to find some problems with your ovaries or other parts of your reproductive tract.
Blood tests: check for higher-than-normal levels of male hormones. You may also have blood tests to assess your cholesterol, insulin, and triglyceride levels to evaluate your risk for associated ailments like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
An ultrasound or sonography uses sound waves to search for abnormal follicles as well as other issues with your ovaries and uterus.
Doctors diagnose PCOS if girls have two of three chief symptoms — high androgen levels, irregular intervals, and cysts in the uterus. A pelvic exam, blood tests, and ultrasound may confirm the identification.
PCOS and Pregnancy:
PCOS interrupts the regular menstrual cycle also makes it harder to get pregnant. Between 70 and 80% of women with PCOS have fertility issues.
This condition may also raise the risk for pregnancy complications.
Women with PCOS are twice as likely as women without the condition to deliver their baby prematurely. They’re also at higher risk for miscarriage, higher blood pressure, and gestational diabetes.
However, women with PCOS can get pregnant with fertility treatments that enhance ovulation. Losing weight and lowering blood sugar levels can improve your odds of having a healthy pregnancy.
PCOS can make it more difficult to get pregnant, and it may increase your risk for pregnancy complications and miscarriage. Weight reduction and other treatments can improve your likelihood of having a healthy pregnancy.
Diet and lifestyle suggestions to Deal with PCOS:
Treatment for PCOS usually begins with lifestyle changes such as weight reduction, diet, and exercise.
Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help regulate your menstrual cycle and improve PCOS symptoms. Weight reduction can also boost cholesterol levels, reduce insulin, and decrease heart disease and diabetes dangers.
Any diet that helps you eliminate weight may help your condition. However, some diets may have advantages over others.
Studies comparing diets for PCOS have found that low-carbohydrate diets are successful for both weight loss and lowering insulin levels.
A low glycemic index (low-GI) diet that gets most carbs from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps regulate the menstrual cycle greater than a regular weight loss diet.
A few studies have found that 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise three or more days a week will help women with PCOS shed weight. Losing weight with exercise also improves ovulation and glucose levels.
Exercise is much more valuable when combined with a healthy diet. Diet and exercise will help you lose more weight than either intervention alone, and it lowers your risks for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
There’s some evidence that acupuncture can assist with enhancing Polycystic ovary syndrome, but more research is needed.
PCOS treatment begins with lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body fat if you are overweight can help improve your symptoms.
Common medical treatments for PCOS:
Contraceptive pills (Birth control pills) and other medicines will help regulate the menstrual cycle and treat PCOS symptoms like hair growth and acne.
Taking estrogen and progestin daily can restore a normal hormone balance, regulate ovulation, relieve symptoms like excess hair growth, and protect against endometrial cancer. These hormones come in a pill, patch, or vaginal ring.
Metformin (Glucophage, Fortamet) is a medication used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. It also treats PCOS by improving insulin levels.
One study found that taking metformin whilst making changes to diet and workout improves weight reduction, reduces blood sugar, and restores a normal menstrual cycle better than changes to diet and exercise alone.
Clomiphene (Clomid) is a fertility drug that can help women with Polycystic ovary syndrome get pregnant. However, it increases the danger of twins and other multiple births.
Hair removal (Epilatory) medicines:
A couple of treatments can help eliminate unwanted hair or stop it from growing. Eflornithine (Vaniqa) cream is a prescription drug that slows hair growth. Laser hair removal and waxing can get rid of unwanted hair on your face and body.
Surgery may be a choice to boost fertility if other treatments do not work. Ovarian drilling is a process that makes tiny holes at the ovary with a laser or thin heated needle to restore normal ovulation.
Birth control pills and the diabetes drug metformin will help bring back a normal menstrual cycle. Clomiphene and surgery improve fertility in women with PCOS. Hair removal medicines can rid women of unwanted hair.
When to See your Physician or Doctor:
- You’ve missed periods and you are not pregnant.
- You have symptoms of PCOS, such as hair growth on your body and face.
- You’ve been trying to get pregnant for more than 12 months but haven’t been successful.
- You have symptoms of diabetes, for example, excessive thirst or hunger, blurred vision, or unexplained weight loss.
If you have Polycystic ovary syndrome, plan regular visits with your primary care doctor. You are going to want normal tests to check for diabetes, high blood pressure, and other possible complications.
Go to your doctor if you have skipped periods or you have other PCOS symptoms like hair growth on your face or body. Also, find a doctor if you’ve been trying to become pregnant for 12 months or more without success.
PCOS can disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycles and make it harder to get pregnant. Elevated levels of male hormones also lead to undesirable symptoms such as hair growth on the body and face.
Lifestyle interventions will be the first treatments doctors recommend for PCOS, and they often work nicely. Weight loss can treat PCOS symptoms and improve the probability of getting pregnant. Diet and aerobic exercise are two effective ways to lose weight.
Medicines are an option if lifestyle changes do not work. Contraceptive pills and metformin can both restore a more normal menstrual cycle and relieve PCOS symptoms.
Ask your friends and loved ones for support.
If you’re feeling anxious or depressed, consider joining a support group or seeking counseling. Believe in your ability to take control of the pain…
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