PCOS, also known as polycystic ovary syndrome is an increasingly common endocrine disorder in females of reproductive age between 18 to 44 years. A recent study has shown that 18% of the females, especially those from eastern India (25.88%), suffer from PCOS. It is also one of the leading causes of infertility in females and is predominantly seen during the child-bearing age of 15 to 30 years. Interestingly, the first recorded incidence of PCOS goes back some 300 years to 1721 AD in an Italian woman.
This condition usually arises due to an increase in the androgen levels in the female. The two marble-sized ovaries in the female produce the female hormones progesterone and estrogen, aside from the ova. A little bit of the male hormone, androgen is also normally produced by these ovaries, but in women with PCOS, this level is found to be elevated and thought to be the reason why the follicles do not mature, leading to irregular menstrual cycles and problems with fertility. In females with PCOS, the ovaries become enlarged with numerous follicles that do not mature, leading to anovulatory cycles.
If left untreated, other secondary problems may also arise including excess facial hair, change in tone of voice, body hair on the belly, chest and lower back, acne, pelvic pain, patches of thicker, darker velvety skin, obesity as well as difficulty in getting pregnant. In some cases, these symptoms might lead to depression as they are difficult to cope with. Over time, other disease conditions like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and endometrial cancer can arise. PCOS is a classic amalgamation of cosmetic, metabolic and gynecological symptoms.
The causes of PCOS include genetic and environmental factors. A family history form either parent can also be passed down the line. Obesity and lack of exercise, insulin resistance as well as low-grade inflammation can all lead to increase in the androgen levels, resulting in symptoms of PCOS.
The diagnosis of PCOS is usually based on the presence of ovarian cysts on a pelvic ultrasound scan, absence of ovulation and a host of blood tests that include hormonal tests for insulin, luteinizing hormone (LH) as well as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).
Early detection and treatment can prevent deterioration of symptoms and development of long-term health issues. Infrequent or absent menstruation is a common symptom in adolescent girls and raises the first doubts on PCOS. Most urban females are educated about the condition these days and seek timely intervention. But you must understand that there is no cure as such.
The treatment is at multi-levels and would include a change in lifestyle, diet as well as inclusion of moderate exercise into your daily regime.
- Exercise is important and walking is a great way to go about it.
- Indulge in a Mediterranean diet full of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, cereals and fish.
- Losing weight helps – even a 5kg loss would mean better control over the hormonal imbalance and menstrual cycle.
- Quit smoking and alcohol use; these lead to higher androgen levels in females.
Birth control pills or patches can help in regularizing periods, and getting rid of excessive hair and acne. The use of Metformin and anti-androgens also help in regaining hormonal balance and doing away with the risk of long-term diseases. And if you are feeling moody and depressed, it always helps to talk to someone about it…