What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS affects the function of your ovaries, or more precisely the production of the eggs in your ovaries. It doesn’t mean you have cysts. Instead the ovaries become inflamed and the eggs don’t get released. Consequently, this can have all sorts of problems for your body.
Causes of PCOS
We don’t know the exact cause of PCOS although it may be down to genetics, as PCOS often runs in families. If your mother, aunt or sister have PCOS then there’s an increased likelihood you’ll have it too.
We know that hormones definitely play a part. Many women with PCOS are found to have a hormonal imbalance of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone, and this imbalance could be responsible for inflammation in the ovaries.
Resistance to insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas to control the amount of sugar in the blood, could also cause problems.
Acne & Skin Issues
If you have PCOS, chances are you’ll experience oily skin or acne due to the increased the levels of male hormones in your body. And these breakouts occur on the hormone-sensitive areas of the face including the cheeks, jawline and upper neck.
One of the symptoms of PCOS is irregular period patterns or not ovulating at all. Not only can this affect your ability to get pregnant, it can also put you at a higher risk of long term health effects, including endometrial cancer.
Due to hormone imbalances 80% of women with PCOS experience irregular periods and only 20% of these actually ovulate. So if you’re thinking about trying to get pregnant, it’s important to address these imbalances early to encourage normal ovulation and improve your fertility.
If you have PCOS, your body has difficulties using the insulin hormone effectively, so sugar builds up in the bloodstream and managing your weight becomes difficult. In fact, half of all women with PCOS have problems controlling their weight. The extra male hormones in your body caused by the condition also means the extra weight often ends up around your middle, the same as men.
Unwanted Hair Growth
Hirsutism or excess hair growth on the face, chest and bottom, affects 75% of women with PCOS and is one of the key symptoms of the condition. PCOS can also cause hair thinning and loss of head hair as it mimics male pattern hair loss.
Maintain A Healthy Pregnancy
Unfortunately, if you have PCOS, you are at a far greater risk of having complications during your pregnancy, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms you should begin by visiting your GP
Your doctor will carry out some simple and pain free tests to see if you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or to rule out any other conditions with these symptoms.
The tests carried out will probably include a blood pressure test. Plus, you’ll have a series of blood tests to analyse the hormone levels in your blood to see if there are any abnormalities, and to check for high cholesterol and diabetes. You may also be sent for an ultrasound of your ovaries.
Your doctor may also refer you to a gynaecologist or endocrinologist for further tests.
Once you know you have PCOS, you can take steps to manage the condition positively and lead a full and healthy life.
What is the treatment for PCOS?
At the moment there is no cure for PCOS. But it is possible to manage your symptoms positively.
Your GP may also prescribe certain medications to help with your symptoms. These may include the contraceptive pill to regulate your menstrual cycle and reduce excessive hair growth. Or topical skin treatments to address issues with acne.
Lifestyle changes too will make a difference. Following a healthy diet and an exercise programme and making sure you get enough of the right vitamins and minerals can really help you take back control of your life. Even a modest weight loss of between 5-10% of your body weight is likely to have a positive effect on your condition.
What are the long term health implications?
By not addressing the symptoms of your PCOS, such as being overweight and having irregular periods, you can increase your chance of developing Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, endometrial hyperplasia (a thickening of the wall lining of the uterus) and endometrial cancer, as well as ongoing problems with fertility. And if you do become pregnant, there is a greater risk of experiencing complications during your pregnancy, particularly if you’re overweight.
It’s important to take control of your condition. So as well as taking supplements and embracing a healthy lifestyle, it’s vital to have regular checks for your weight, blood pressure and glucose levels in the blood.