What is PCOS? Its causes, symptoms, and treatment
PCOS (Polycystic ovarian syndrome) is nothing but a hormonal disorder among women of the age groups between 15 to 44. It is estimated that at least 26.7 % of women in this age group suffer from PCOS.
When suffering from PCOS, they produce higher levels of male hormones in their body than female hormones. This hormonal imbalance results in the regular menstrual period making it harder for women to get pregnant.
Some of the side effects in women suffering from PCOS are unwanted hair growth on the face and body, severe hair fall, irregular menstrual cycles, and long-term health problems like diabetes and heart attack.
The ovaries, the reproductive organ that produces estrogen and progesterone to regulate the menstrual cycle are affected in women suffering from PCOS. The ovaries start to produce a small number of male hormones called androgens.
The ovaries release an egg every month that is to be fertilized with a man’s sperm. The release of an egg every month for the process of fertilization is called ovulation. This process of ovulation is generally controlled by two hormones called follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone produced by the pituitary gland.
The follicle-stimulating hormone stimulates the ovary to produce follicles. A follicle is a sac-like structure to support the egg and the luteinizing hormone triggers the ovary to release a mature egg.
PCOS is a group of symptoms that affect the ovaries and ovulation. The ovaries can be affected in the following three ways.
- Cysts in the ovaries
- High levels of male hormones
- Irregular menstrual cycle
In women suffering from PCOS, many fluid-filled sac-like structures are grown inside the ovaries. The word Polycystic in PCOS refers to many cysts.
Each sac contains an immature egg. As the levels of progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and organizing hormone decrease, the eggs never mature to trigger ovulation. As a result, higher levels of male hormones are produced than usual.
Causes of PCOS
There is no particular reason for PCOS. Studies have shown that the excess levels of male hormones in the body prevent the ovaries from producing hormones and making the eggs for ovulation.
The excess production of male hormones is a cause of many health conditions like genes, insulin resistance, inflammation, etc.
Studies have shown that PCOS can be inherited through genes. If you have an immediate family member, be it your mother or sister suffering from PCOS, then there is a high chance of you getting PCOS too.
- Insulin resistance
Studies have shown that more than 70 % of women suffering from PCOS have insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is a condition in which the cells in your body cannot use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to help the body use the glucose present in the blood to get energy.
But when cells can’t use the insulin properly, the body’s demand for the insulin increases. The load on the pancreas increases to produce more insulin. The excess levels of insulin produced in the body trigger the ovaries to produce more male hormones.
Obesity can be the major cause of insulin resistance in many people. Both obesity and insulin resistance can result in the risk of having type 2 diabetes in the future.
Studies have shown that women suffering from PCOS often have increased levels of inflammation. Being overweight can put you at the risk of increased inflammation. Doctors say that excess inflammation is linked to higher androgen levels in your body.
Common symptoms of PCOS
The symptoms of PCOS vary from one woman to another. Some women may recognize that they have PCOS during the early stages when they got their period. While some may recognize when they are having trouble getting pregnant. The most common symptoms of PCOS are
- Irregular periods
Lack of ovulation prevents the uterine lining from shedding every month. So women with PCOS get fewer than 8 periods in a year or none at all in severe cases.
- Heavy bleeding
As the Uterine lining doesn’t shed every month, it builds up over time. Women with PCOS have heavier bleeding than normal.
- Unwanted hair growth
It is the most common symptom in women suffering from PCOS. More than 70 % of women have unwanted hair growth on their face and body including their back, belly, and chest. This condition is also called Hirsutism.
The excess production of male hormones can make the skin oily, and cause breakouts on areas like the face, chest, and upper back.
- Weight gain
This is another most common symptom in people with PCOS. Studies have shown that 80 % of women with PCOS suffer from overweight and obesity.
- Darkening of the skin
Some women may experience dark patches on their skin in the areas like the neck, groin, and under the breast.
- Male pattern baldness
Some women may experience heavy hair fall and thin hair on the scalp.
- Headache and the hormonal imbalance in your body can sometimes trigger headaches in some women.
Treatment of PCOS
You can treat PCOS with Lifestyle changes like weight loss, diet, and exercise. Even losing just 5 to 10% of your body weight can help you regulate your menstrual cycle and improve PCOS symptoms. Weight loss can also help you to improve cholesterol levels, lower insulin and reduce heart disease and diabetes risks.
Taking a healthy diet that is low in carbohydrates is effective for both weight loss and lowering insulin levels. It is best recommended to have foods that have a low glycemic index. Food like fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps regulate the menstrual cycle better.
You can also have some medical treatment if none of the lifestyle changes have worked in improving your health. The doctors might prescribe you birth control pills and other medications to help you regulate the menstrual cycle and treat other symptoms like unwanted hair growth and acne.
Also Read: PCOD in Female: Causes, Symtoms & Diagnosis