Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common reproductive disorder that encompasses many associated health conditions. In the past few years, there have been thousands of articles published concerning the different aspects and relationships regarding PCOS. Despite the high and increasing incidence of PCOS, there are several aspects that still remain ambiguous. Very few studies have been conducted that grasp PCOS in its entire complexity.
Polycystic ovaries are a condition where ovaries contain excess primordial follicles. Despite the name Polycystic, it does not contain any cyst and contains only follicles. The follicles are naturally present in the ovaries and they are small fluid-filled sacs containing ovum or eggs. Normally during reproductive years, each ovary contains 5-12 follicles but when there are 12-15 follicles in an ovary, it is called Polycystic. When the presence of follicles is severe, say more than 50 follicles, then, the condition is called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
Causes for Polycystic Ovaries
During a menstrual cycle, usually, 5-10 follicles develop at the beginning, and later around the 14th day, one of the follicles (leading follicles) gets bigger, and shortly after that ovulation takes place with the release of the eggs. The remaining eggs regress and disappear. These occur every four weeks and thus the menstrual bleed happens. When there are Polycystic ovaries, the cyclic events do not take place, and instead, no leading egg is produced. Only small immature follicles are produced in every cycle and the reason for this is yet to be found out. PCO tends to appear during the 20s in a girl’s growing years. It is a very common condition and 1 in every 5 women has them. Since there is no permanent "cure" for PCOS, women struggle with their symptoms on a daily basis. The sheer weight of the continual battle often has an impact on women’s mental health. When a diagnosis is made, you may be referred to a gynecologist or an endocrinologist.
Signs of PCOS
With PCOS, women may have a hormonal imbalance which will cause the following:
- General acne
- Reduced fertility
- Hair excess on face, chest and pubic area
- Oily skin
- Resistance to the body’s natural insulin (blood sugar increase)
- Irregular and infrequent periods
There are some simple steps to treat the condition like regular exercise to activate insulin, weight reduction, low carbohydrate and low glycemic index diet, taking oral contraceptive pills to treat hormone imbalance, and taking fertility drugs in case of fertility issues as prescribed by the gynecologist. If the above measures are inadequate, then probably laparoscopic ovarian drilling might help. Pregnancy can be easily achieved with the use of ART (Artificial Reproductive technique).
Spectrum of symptoms
Women suffering from PCOS exhibit a range of symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, unwanted hair growth, thinning hair, infertility, acne, pelvic pain, headaches, sleep problems, and frequent mood swings. Most symptoms begin shortly after puberty and they can also develop during late teens and even into early adulthood. Unfortunately, PCOS cannot be cured. It can, however, be managed to a large extent by controlling the symptoms. Exercise and a healthy diet are the best bet for women with PCOS as this will help to regulate the menstrual cycle and lower blood glucose levels.
Even today, there is a general lack of awareness regarding the condition in India and it often remains undetected for years. This health condition is estimated to affect about 10 million women globally. Women with PCOS are often found to have higher than normal insulin levels.
Do we know what causes PCOS?
No. It’s still not understood what causes PCOS, and the causes probably vary for different people. Genetics, behavior, lifestyle, and environment may all play a role. It is true that many women who have PCOS are overweight or obese. And obesity can make PCOS symptoms worse. However, PCOS does not discriminate and can affect women of all shapes and sizes. The relationship between weight and PCOS has to do with the body's inability to use insulin properly, which can lead to weight gain. That's why getting into the habit of eating healthy and exercising regularly is recommended as part of most women's treatment plan. By separating fact from myth, you can empower yourself to live a complete, healthy life with PCOS.
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