Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a prevalent hormonal disorder in women, yet it is one of the most underdiagnosed diseases. It adversely affects women at varying life stages, but unfortunately, half of the women with PCOS are unaware and ignorant about it. As it is a complex and multifaceted condition, it impacts women’s health and well-being in a multitude of ways. Therefore, it is imperative to create awareness and emphasize prevention strategies.
Considering the steep rise in PCOS in women between the ages of 12 to 45, Tech Mahindra Foundation took the initiative to create awareness about PCOS through a webinar. The objective of this webinar was to educate everyone, especially girls, women and paramedics, about the symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of Polycystic Ovarian Disease. I was delighted to disseminate information about the disease and share my knowledge with aspiring paramedics pursuing the courses at Tech Mahindra SMART Academies. This article looks at key information on causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of PCOS shared during the webinar.
Why is Awareness About PCOS Important?
PCOS affects a women’s hormones, and this hormonal imbalance causes a woman’s body to skip menstrual periods resulting in excessive hair growth and androgen levels. This condition also makes it harder for women to conceive. The delay in diagnosis of PCOS can lead to the progression of comorbidities. So, being aware of the causes and symptoms of PCOS can help a woman get early treatment and prevent further health complications, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, infertility, etc.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, is an endocrine system disorder common among women of reproductive age. It is characterized by overproduction of androgen (male hormone), abnormality in menstrual cycles, or the presence of small cysts in ovaries. Ovulation happens when the ovaries release the egg so that the sperm can fertilize it. In the case of PCOS, the woman does not make enough hormones necessary for ovulation. The lack of ovulation results in cyst formation. The cysts produce high levels of male hormones, which hinder a woman’s menstrual cycle and account for the multiple symptoms of PCOS. Although the exact reason for PCOS is unknown, early diagnosis and treatment and weight loss may reduce the risk of multiple morbidities associated with PCOS.
Its Signs and Symptoms
The preliminary signs and symptoms of PCOS usually develop around the first menstrual period during puberty. However, it may also develop later as a result of weight gain. The signs and symptoms of PCOS vary. The signs and symptoms can be typically more severe if the patient is obese. PCOS is typically diagnosed when at least two of the following signs are present in the patient:
- Irregular Menstrual Cycle (Periods): A common sign of PCOS is an infrequent, irregular, or prolonged menstrual cycle. For example, having fewer than nine periods a year, or more than 35 days between periods, or abnormally heavy periods are considered irregular periods.
- Excess Androgen: Increased levels of male hormones (androgens) may result in physical signs such as hirsutism (excessive facial and body hair) and occasionally male-pattern baldness and severe acne.
- Polycystic Ovaries: The ovaries might increase in size and contain follicles that surround the eggs. These follicles do not open and form small cysts. Hence, the ovaries might fail to function regularly.
The exact causes of PCOS are still unknown. However, it is related to genetics, environmental, and lifestyle factors. It is believed that high levels of androgens prevent the ovaries from producing hormones and making eggs normally. The factors causing PCOS are as follows:
- Excessive Insulin
Insulin is the hormone that is produced in the pancreas that lets cells use sugar from foods. If these cells become resistant to the action of insulin, then the blood sugar levels can rise, and the pancreas might produce more insulin. The excess insulin triggers the ovaries to produce more androgens, causing difficulty with ovulation.
- Low-Grade Inflammation
This term describes white blood cells’ production of substances to fight infection. Research suggests that women suffering from PCOS have low-grade inflammation that stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens, which leads to cardiovascular and blood vessel problems.
Research suggests that specific genes might be linked to PCOS. It may run in families, and it is common for a mother and daughter or sisters to have PCOS. Additionally, women with a family history of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or Type 2 Diabetes are more prone to develop PCOS.
- Excessive Androgen
The ovaries produce elevated androgen levels, resulting in physical signs like hirsutism, male pattern baldness, and acne.
Women with PCOS may develop considerable complications. Some of these are as follows:
There is no specific test for diagnosing PCOS. The doctor will begin with discussing your medical history, including patient’s menstrual periods and weight changes. Moreover, a doctor may recommend a physical examination to check for signs of excess hair growth, acne and insulin resistance.
A physician might recommend:
- Pelvic Exam: In it, the doctor checks the uterus. This examination would confirm your reproductive organs’ health. It also inspects the uterus for masses, growth, or other abnormalities.
- Blood Tests: Blood tests are performed to measure hormone levels. This testing excludes possible causes of menstrual irregularities or excessive androgen levels that mimic PCOS. Your doctor may have your triglycerides, 25-hydroxy Vit D3, FSH, serum luteinising hormone, testosterone, estradiol, 17-OH progesterone, TSH, and serum prolactin checked.
- Ultrasound: Transvaginal ultrasound is done to check the size and appearance of your ovaries and the thickness of the uterus lining.
The doctor might recommend additional tests for complications after being diagnosed with PCOS. These tests include:
- Regular checks of blood pressure, glucose tolerance, and cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Screening for obstructive sleep apnea.
- Screening for depression and anxiety.
Treatment of PCOS is individualized to cure prevailing symptoms and is focused on correcting irregular bleeding, infertility, hirsutism, acne and preventing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The specific treatment of PCOS might involve lifestyle changes and relevant medication.
- Lifestyle Changes
The doctor will recommend weight loss as it increases the effectiveness of the medication. Switching to a low-calorie diet along with moderate exercise will help in significantly improving the symptoms related to PCOS. To begin with, your doctor will recommend you to lose 5% of your body weight.
The medications also vary according to the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome. A combination of birth control pills and progestin therapy can help regulate the menstrual cycle. There are many medications that a doctor may recommend to help a woman with PCOS ovulate.
The physician might also prescribe birth control pills, creams, or electrolysis to reduce hair growth.
- Home Remedies
PCOS is completely controllable with diet and exercise. To help decrease the effects of PCOS, you should try to
- Maintain a healthy weight because weight loss can decrease insulin and androgen levels and may restore ovulation.
- Increase daily activity and exercise regularly as it may treat or even prevent insulin resistance. It also aids in keeping weight under control and preventing the development of diabetes. Moreover, regular exercise lowers blood sugar levels.
- Maintain overall menstrual hygiene. It is imperative as lack of menstrual hygiene can have a cascading effect on overall sexual and reproductive health. Lack of menstrual hygiene can pose serious health risks, such as reproductive and urinary tract infections resulting in birth complications and future infertility.
Diet to Treat PCOS
Women suffering from PCOS are encouraged to follow a low-fat and low-carbohydrate diet. Such a diet prevents a sudden increase in blood sugar levels and helps keep your weight under control. Girls and women must consume a protein-rich diet and food with a low glycemic index.
|Foods to Eat||Foods to Avoid|
|Natural and unprocessed foods.||Foods rich in carbohydrates|
|Foods high in fibre||Fruits like watermelon and grapes|
|Nuts and legumes||Foods with high glycemic index|
|Fish, meat, and eggs||Junk food|
|Broccoli and cauliflower||Bakery products|
|Spinach, kale, and other leafy vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy||Refined flour|
When to See a Healthcare Professional
If you experience any or some of the signs and symptoms mentioned above, you must consult your doctor. While the symptoms listed above may or may not mean you have it yet it is important to get yourself examined as early detection and treatment help manage PCOS.
PCOS is a serious medical condition and is highly prevalent. Therefore, adolescent girls and women should consult a gynecologist in case of irregular menstrual cycles to know the exact reason behind it. Delays in the detection and treatment of PCOS can put people at higher risk of infertility, heart diseases, hypertension, endometrial cancer, and diabetes. Since it is a hormonal disease, one should avoid self-medication and consult a doctor for timely and correct treatment. In addition, all sections of the population must make efforts, especially healthcare providers to creating awareness about its symptoms as well as early treatment. Tech Mahindra SMART Academies for Healthcare are committed to such causes and is spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene as a part of its community health initiatives. It provides a forum to girls and women for discussing menstrual disorders. The government must encourage such initiatives to create awareness among females about PCOS to support them better and take control of their health and well-being.