PCOS is a condition in women that causes hormonal problems and the way in which the ovaries function. With PCOS on the rise, it is extremely alarming that most of the PCOS cases go undiagnosed or the diagnosis gets delayed resulting in long-term complications. It is therefore very important to learn about PCOS and be more self-aware. Let’s take a look at the symptoms, causes and long-term effects of PCOS on a woman’s body along with some diet and lifestyle changes that will help in its management.
What is PCOS?
PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition that causes a hormonal imbalance in women due to excess of androgens. There is no single proven cause of PCOS but some of the known contributing factors include genetics, familial predisposition, resistance to insulin and low-grade inflammation. The condition is marked by an overproduction of male hormones known as androgens. This condition affects women who are of reproductive age (from 15 to 44 years) and causes a wide range of symptoms.
What happens during PCOS?
Ovaries are the female reproductive organs that release egg(s) each month, in a process known as ovulation. The ovaries secrete two hormones- oestrogen and progesterone which are responsible for normal periods. The ovaries are in turn governed by two hormones known as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which are secreted by the pituitary gland.
PCOS causes an imbalance of these hormones along with the overproduction of androgens, leading to irregular periods and difficulty in conception. PCOS as the name suggests generally has “cysts” on the ovaries which are just follicles which have not matured into viable eggs and contain an excess of androgens.
Symptoms and complications of PCOS
The time of onset and range of symptoms of PCOS differ in each woman. An overview of the various symptoms and complications is mentioned below.
Short-term symptoms –
- Irregular period cycles – from as low as 6 periods/year to no periods at all
- Overgrowth of facial and body hair
- Acne breakouts
- Excessive weight gain or difficulty in losing weight
- Difficulty in getting pregnant
Long-term complications –
- Type-II diabetes
- Hypertension and high blood pressure
- An increase in the level of bad cholesterol in the blood
- Cardiovascular disease
- Appearance of dark patches on the skin
- Spells of depression and lethargy
- Sleep Apnea(secondary to the weight gain)
- Endometrial cancer
Treatment strategies for PCOS
PCOS is not a curable condition and treatment involves effective management of the symptoms in a patient. Mentioned below are the various treatment strategies for PCOS.
- Diet and Lifestyle modifications- Healthy changes in lifestyle like weight loss, exercise, and a proper diet are the first line of management in handling any case of PCOS. Diet control has two main effects on patients with PCOS. It not only helps in bringing body weight under control but also plays a key role in reducing insulin resistance. Even if a patient manages to shed just 10% of their body weight through a proper diet and exercise, it will help in the normalizing menstrual cycle and will improve insulin resistance.
Apart from this, anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric, tomatoes, and spinach also help. It is vital to include sources of essential fatty acids such as walnuts, almonds, and fish among others as they play a key role in reducing inflammation. Additionally, there are foods that PCOS patients should avoid completely. These include all kinds of processed meats and foods, sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pastries. Behavioral lifestyle changes include taking necessary care for psychological issues, reducing stress through meditation and yoga, managing life goals and various self-help and self-monitoring techniques. Patients should ensure that they stay hydrated throughout the day and get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
- Medication- Medical treatments for PCOS revolves around hormonal regulation of the menstrual cycle. The most common medication prescribed by doctors for PCOS is oral contraceptive pills. Oral contraceptive pills help in restoring the hormonal balance in the body which in turn regularizes periods and helps in reducing acne and hair growth. Progestin therapy for the second half of the cycle will also help in the regularization of the menstrual cycle and it also reduces the risk of endometrial cancer. For patients planning for pregnancy, inducing ovulation using ovulation-induction-drugs are the treatment of choice.
- Insulin sensitizers – Insulin sensitizers help decrease the resistance of insulin thus improving body metabolism and hormonal profile and also helps to improve ovulation rates.
- Surgical treatments – Surgical management of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
is aimed mainly at restoring ovulation. Ovarian drilling is used to treat PCOS when all other methods fail. Ovarian drilling involves drilling into the ovary to burst the cysts that contain the excess androgens. The drilling is done laparoscopically using a small needle. This helps in revitalizing ovulation. Apart from this, laser therapy and electrolysis can be used to remove excess body hair.
Since the symptoms are common for a lot of conditions, PCOS often goes undiagnosed. The mfine app brings a whole host of expert gynecologists, endocrinologists, diabetologist, dermatologist and nutritionist who are adept at diagnosing and managing such complex conditions. Women with PCOS can now easily consult medical experts and get accurate diagnosis and treatment right from the comfort of their homes.