What is polycystic ovary syndrome?
A leading cause of infertility among women, PCOS, also known as Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, is one of the most common endocrine disorder in women.
It is a condition in which the levels of sex hormones in a woman namely, estrogen and progesterone, go out of balance. This leads to enlarged ovaries with cysts forming on the outer edges. Polycystic means multiple cysts, and usually, in this condition, it is seen that clusters of small fluid-filled cysts occur in the ovaries.
There is an overproduction of the male hormone known as androgen in a woman with PCOS. This is also called Hyperandrogenism, which is one of the primary symptoms of PCOS.
Most of the time women between the ages of 15-44 (of childbearing age) have PCOS and often go undiagnosed. It is when they have problems bearing children, during their twenties or thirties, that they go for a medical exam and get diagnosed with PCOS. PCOS can happen anytime after puberty and the usual signs are acne on the face, chest or upper back, irregularities in the menstrual cycle, excessive hair growth in areas where men usually have hair, thinning of hair on the scalp, and obesity.
If you notice any of these symptoms you need to consult your family doctor or a general physician immediately. Depending on your condition, he may refer you to an endocrinologist or an obstetrician/gynaecologist (Ob-Gyn).
How does polycystic ovary syndrome occur?
The ovaries in a woman’s body create an egg each month which, as a part of the normal menstrual cycle is released every month. This process is known as ovulation. This happens toward the end of the time you're fertile between periods.
In a woman suffering from PCOS, the egg may not be released during the ovulation period, as it should be. Ovulation then fails to occur and the hormone progesterone (which helps prepare the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to receive the egg, should it become fertilized by a sperm) is not created. This results in an irregular or absent menstrual cycle.
Apart from this, women with PCOS tend to have a higher amount of insulin, in the body due to insulin resistance, which results in elevated blood sugar levels.
Hence, they are more prone to developing diabetes.
Who is prone to polycystic ovary syndrome?
PCOS is a disorder which affects women, especially women:
- who have a family history of PCOS
- and girls who are obese are more likely to have PCOS.
- between the ages of 14 to 44 are prone to PCOS.
What is the cause of polycystic ovary syndrome?
Termed as an idiopathic disorder (or in other words a disease not connected to any particular cause), the causes for PCOS are unknown.
However, there does seem to be certain associations to a family history of PCOS, insulin resistance, and lifestyle
What are the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome? How is polycystic ovary syndrome diagnosed?
The symptoms of PCOS include:
To diagnose PCOS the doctor will first ask you about your and your family’s medical history.
To rule out any other causes of the symptoms, and diagnose PCOS, the doctor will perform a general physical exam. During the physical exam, the doctor will check your Body Mass Index (BMI), look for excess hair growth on the face or other areas in your body, skin discolouration, and will enquire about the regularity of the cycles of your periods.
For a proper diagnosis and to rule out other possibilities such as thyroid disorder, the doctor may ask you to undergo certain tests. The tests include:
- Blood Tests: The blood tests will reveal if there is too much of androgen (the male hormones) in your body as well as other hormones which can indicate a thyroid condition instead of PCOS. The blood test will also include a test for sugar levels and diabetes.
- Pelvic Exam: A pelvic exam will be performed to check for signs of extra male hormones.
- Pelvic ultrasound: A pelvic ultrasound can reveal enlarged ovaries and the cysts on them.
What are the complications of polycystic ovary syndrome?
The complications of PCOS include:
- insulin resistance
- atherosclerosis (clogged arteries)
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- heart attack
- anxiety disorders
- sleep apnea (brief episodes of stopped breathing during sleep which affects oxygen delivery to the body.)
- endometrial cancer (cancer caused by thickening of the lining of the uterus)
- breast cancer
What is the treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Based on the severity your PCOS symptoms the doctor may recommend certain medications such as birth control pills to make your periods regular, diabetes preventative medicines, medicines to help with hormonal imbalance and make pregnancy easier.
If you do not respond to the medications prescribed by the doctor, he may advise a surgery to reduce the number of cysts and improve ovarian function.
Apart from helping in weight reduction, exercising can have numerous benefits. PCOS can make you prone to cholesterol and diabetes. Exercising will lower your cholesterol, and thus lower your risk of suffering from atherosclerosis, and also help your body to respond better to insulin, thus reducing your risk of diabetes as well.
Exercising also helps the release of endorphins in your body, which are hormones that promote feelings of wellness. This can counter the feelings of anxiety and depression common among PCOS patients.
Aerobics, cardio exercises, strength training, brisk walking, cycling and swimming, pilates, zumba are some forms of exercises that can give wonderful results.
Traditional forms of exercises such as Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong are also excellent for countering PCOS related complications.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
Women in Eastern India Are More Affected
Around 18% of the women, especially from Eastern India, suffer from PCOS.
Women in Child-Bearing Age Group More At Risk
The increasing trend of PCOS is predominantly seen among the women in the child-bearing age group of 14 to 30 years.
Medical Conditions Associated With PCOS
PCOS is associated with several other medical conditions such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. Undiagnosed PCOS can lead to infertility.
Total hysterectomy is the most common type of hysterectomy that is performed and involves the removal of the entire uterus, including the cervix (the neck of the womb).
This is a minimally invasive surgical procedure using a laparoscope to remove the uterus and/or fallopian tubes and ovaries through the vagina.
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