PCOS isn’t the most commonly known condition, but chances are you know someone who suffers with it. PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, affects the function of a woman's ovaries, and statistics say around 1 in 10 women of reproductive age have it, though some estimate as high as 1 in 5 women. While it may seem like all it does is cause fertility issues, there’s a whole lot more to this condition that you need to know. Here’s a quick overview:
What are the symptoms?
PCOS can cause varying symptoms from woman to woman, but the most common are irregular periods (due to ovaries not releasing eggs regularly enough), excess androgens (sometimes causing excess body hair), and enlarged ovaries (containing fluid-filled sacs that surround eggs).
Other symptoms that can occur are weight gain, acne, and even scalp hair loss. Since the disorder is rooted in metabolic dysfunction and insulin resistance, women with PCOS need to be aware of the health risks that can come along later in life, such as higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. And of course, women with PCOS can find it more difficult to get pregnant due to irregular ovulation, but it is not impossible.
What’s going on in those ovaries?
Simply put, polycystic ovaries contain harmless follicles that are essentially sacs in which eggs develop, making them unable to be released for ovulation. This happens due to abnormal hormone levels in the body, specifically insulin, which controls levels of sugar in the body.
How is PCOS treated?
The cause of PCOS is unknown, but it tends to run in the family. There is no complete cure for the condition, but by working with a GP, the symptoms can be managed. Gaining weight is a common symptom of PCOS, so eating a healthy, balanced diet is encouraged, and can help you not only lose weight but also minimise some of the other symptoms.
With irregular periods, excessive hair growth and fertility issues, prescribed medications can help. For women trying to get pregnant, if medications do not help then sometimes a simple surgical procedure called LOD (Laparoscopic Ovarian Drilling) is recommended… which is less scary than it sounds! This means using heat or a laser to remove tissue from the ovaries.
How can you address PCOS proactively?
Though PCOS often shows up when a woman is in her late teens or early twenties, much of the time it isn’t properly assessed and treated until there is a problem, like when she is trying to get pregnant. By then, the condition could have progressed and further treatment is required.
With this in mind, it’s important for women to understand PCOS and the symptoms, and to self-advocate for intervention. If you believe your symptoms are abnormal and possibly in line with PCOS, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or healthcare professional to do the necessary tests, so that you can better understand your body and begin treatment earlier if required.
How can women with PCOS get pregnant?
Many women with PCOS are told that their chances of having children are very slim, and possibly non-existent, but it’s important to know that it can still happen, though with more difficulty. Oftentimes this struggle is due to the ovaries not releasing an egg each month, or releasing it at irregular times. As mentioned, certain medications can help with this. If, after trying medication, a woman is still unable to conceive after some time, this can be combined with procedures called intrauterine inseminations (IUI), injectable medications used in conjunction with these, or even in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
However, there is some good news! Women with PCOS often have a higher ‘ovarian reserve’, which means they could have a longer reproductive life and undergo menopause later than others. It also means that during IVF a larger number of eggs can often be harvested.
What happens after menopause?
While the symptoms are known to improve slightly, PCOS unfortunately does not completely disappear when a woman experiences menopause. Symptoms will still need to be managed, so speak to your doctor about how best to do this later in life.
What else can be done to limit symptoms?
If you suffer with PCOS, there are a few other things you can do to make symptoms more manageable.
- Ditch sugar: Sugar and refined carbohydrates exacerbate the cycle of metabolic dysfunction, so quitting sugar sweetened beverages, limiting your consumption of bread, pasta, and pastries, and not going overboard on desserts, can help a lot.
- Manage stress: PCOS often flares up when stress is involved, so maintaining a routine of meditation, yoga, journalling, or whatever you do to de-stress, can help keep symptoms at bay.
- Exercise regularly: Daily activity, even if it’s just a brisk walk, can help manage symptoms of PCOS, and weight training is often recommended as it helps to improve insulin sensitivity. Pump that iron!
- Check your thyroid and vitamin D: Women with PCOS are three times as likely to suffer from hyperthyroidism, as well as being more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency, so check these things with your doctor to ensure you’re in ship-shape.
Do you suffer with PCOS? How do you manage your symptoms? Let us know over on Instagram: @itsyoppie