What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal medical condition that affects a woman’s ovaries and is the most common hormonal medical condition that affects reproductive-aged women. It can be further characterised as when a female body produces an excessive amount of male hormones or androgens.
The most common issue faced by women with PCOS is irregular periods or no period at all. Since this means ovulation does not take place regularly, a woman with PCOS may find it difficult to get pregnant. However, if a woman with PCOS becomes pregnant, they are also more likely to suffer complications and even miscarriage. Women with PCOS are also at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
The symptoms of PCOS may differ for each woman and is dependent on the severity of the condition. Some women may also have multiple symptoms at the same time or one symptom at any given time and these usually appear in their late teens or early twenties. It is also important to note that some of the symptoms are common amongst women and only a proper diagnosis can determine if a woman has PCOS. These include:
- Irregular period or no period at all.
- Excessive hair growth (hirsutism)
- Weight gain
- Acne-prone or oily skin
- Scalp hair loss
- Mood swings
What causes PCOS?
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown but it is believed that there is a strong genetic element which is also influenced by environmental and lifestyle factors. PCOS is also thought to be hereditary and if a woman has PCOS, it is more likely to be passed down to her daughter.
How does PCOS affect fertility?
Since PCOS equates to a higher level of male hormones, this prevents the process of ovulation in women. In turn, women that have PCOS may find it harder to conceive than women without PCOS.
How to prevent PCOS?
Although most cases of PCOS cannot be prevented, the symptoms can be alleviated through a change in lifestyle. If a woman is overweight, the doctor may emphasise on eating a balanced diet and exercising to help weight loss. This will also help with bringing down insulin levels and improve cardiovascular health. However, it is important to note that PCOS affects women of all shapes and sizes and the best treatment plan for you should be formulated by a medical practitioner.
Treatments for PCOS are determined by the symptoms currently present in the individual. Each person may have different treatment plans to help lessen the impact of PCOS.
A balanced diet & exercise
Since PCOS can affect metabolic system, fertility and insulin levels, the doctor will likely suggest improving an individual’s diet and incorporating mild to moderate exercise. For women with PCOS, the DASH diet might be particularly useful. Originally created to help lower blood pressure, this diet plan emphasises on a balanced and healthy eating habit which includes at least 3-4 servings of vegetables, fruits and grains per day; low consumption of saturated and trans fat and lower consumption of sodium. The example of foods and suggested servings are:
- 1 slice of wholegrain bread OR
- 1/2 cup of brown rice OR
- 1/2 cup of whole-wheat pasta
- 1 cup of raw collards, spinach or kale OR
- 1/2 cup of broccoli, carrots or green beans OR
- 1/2 cup of vegetable juice
- 1 apple, banana or orange OR
- 1/2 cup of grapes, pineapples or apricots OR
- 1/2 cup of fruit juice
- 1 cup of low-fat milk OR
- 1 cup of low-fat yogurt
Meat, poultry or fish
- 30g of chicken breast OR
- 30g of fish
- 1 egg
It is suggested that a 5% weight reduction can significantly improve the impact of PCOS.
In order to manage menstrual irregularities, oral contraceptives are also used to treat those who are not looking to get pregnant. Certain oral contraceptives with anti-androgens may also help with other symptoms of PCOS such as: excessive hair growth and oily or acne skin.
Metformin is regularly used to treat individuals with type 2 diabetes. In the case of PCOS, doctors may also prescribe this medicine to lower insulin and blood sugar levels.
For women that are finding it hard to conceive, the doctor may prescribe Clomiphene to stimulate ovulation and follicular development. If Clomiphene fails to activate ovulation, the doctor may suggest a stronger solution such as the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) injection to get pregnant. Research suggests that individuals taking the FSH injection have a better chance at getting pregnant at an 82% success rate compared to a 50% success rate for those who take Clomiphene.
Living with PCOS
There is still no cure for PCOS but many of the symptoms can be managed effectively. Though it can be particularly challenging for women undergoing PCOS, a healthy lifestyle and diet can play a crucial role in managing the condition.
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