Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a hormonal disorder that affects 1 in 10 women in the reproductive age span. About 8% to 10% of women in the United States are affected by this condition. The infertility rate with this condition is very high but treatable!
If this condition remains undiagnosed then the patients have trouble getting pregnant and have to face serious health issues like cardiovascular diseases and Type 2 diabetes.
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
PCOS is a medical condition in which the there is an imbalance of sex hormones like progesterone and estrogen in the woman’s body. This leads to the formation of ovarian cysts (benign masses on the ovaries) which leads to troubles with the menstrual cycle, overall appearance, fertility and cardiac issues. The ovaries develop small collections of fluids (follicles) and fail to release eggs on a regular basis.
Causes of PCOS
The exact reason behind developing this disease is unknown. Scientists are still scratching their heads but the below factors play a role
- High levels of Androgen
The female bodies produce a small amount of male sex hormone called “Androgen”. This hormone is responsible for triggering male traits like the formation of testes, spermatogenesis, and inhibition of fat deposition in the males.
When the female body starts producing more androgen than normal then problems like facial hair and acne starts to appear. Higher androgen levels also affect the regular production and release of eggs by the ovaries as well.
- High Insulin Levels
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas which allows the body cells to use sugar as its primary source of energy. The patients often undergo insulin resistance whereby the cells do not respond to insulin and it results in high glucose levels in the body. High glucose levels trigger higher insulin levels.
Higher insulin levels trigger the production of androgen which in turn affects the regular release of eggs by the ovaries. In addition to that, insulin resistance is usually common in women who are overweight, do not exercise regularly and have unhealthy eating habits. If such habits continue and PCOS is not diagnosed on time then it can later lead to Type 2 Diabetes.
If you have an aunt, sister or mother who had PCOS then there exists a higher risk that you might develop it later in life.
Symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
The signs and symptoms of PCOS vary and one can diagnose this disease when at least two to three of the symptoms start to appear.
Some symptoms begin to develop near your first menstrual period during puberty while some may appear later in life due to unhealthy eating habits and obesity. The symptoms are as follows
Hirsutism refers to a condition in which unwanted and excess hair (male patterned) starts appearing in women. Course hair begins to appear on chin, face, and parts of the body where men usually have hair. This symptom tends to affect 70%-75% of the patients with PCOS.
Acne appears on the face, back and chest.
- Irregular Menstrual Cycle
Women suffering from PCOS have fewer periods (around 8 per year) and miss their periods. Sometimes their periods may occur after every 21 days and sometimes in severe cases, the menstrual cycle gets disturbed and the periods may stop altogether.
Hyperpigmentation may also occur in areas like groin, underneath the breasts and along the neck.
- Skin Tags
Excess flaps of the skin may start to appear in the armpits or area around the neck.
- Weight gain
Women suffering from PCOS face a constant struggle when it comes to losing weight. PCOS makes it more difficult for the body to use Insulin, this condition is called Insulin resistance. Insulin helps in the conversion of sugars and starch from foods into energy and in the case of insulin resistance the blood sugar and insulin levels go up in the bloodstream.
Higher Insulin levels trigger more production of androgen (male sex hormone) which in turn leads to facial hair, acne, and weight gain. The weight gain is because of the higher levels of androgen in the body hence the fat deposition usually occurs in the abdominal area. Men tend to gain weight in the abdominal area hence the body shape begins to change from a pear shape to an apple shape.
- Polycystic Ovaries
The ovaries begin to enlarge and start containing follicles that surround the eggs and prevents the ovaries from functioning properly.
- Male Patterned Baldness
This symptom may begin to appear in females due to excess androgen levels in the body.
These symptoms may appear more aggressively in females who are obese and have a family history of Type 2 Diabetes.
Risks Associated with PCOS – Weight Gain?
Weight Gain outside the acceptable limit is a big risk factor for your health. It triggers so many health issues like cardiovascular diseases, triggers the aging process, weight gain and insulin resistance. An obese woman has a higher risk of developing PCOS. Other health-related risks include
- High Blood Pressure
- Sleep Apnea
- High Cholesterol
- Endometrial Cancer
In addition to that, obese women are three to four times more susceptible to a heart attack in comparison to a woman of the same age without the aforementioned conditions.
Is Pregnancy Possible with PCOS?
Yes a patient suffering from PCOS may get pregnant but that solely depends on the severity of their condition. As mentioned above, unfortunately, the infertility rates in PCOS are very high which means that the patient may encounter trouble conceiving.
Polycystic ovarian patients have trouble ovulating but at times the ovaries might release an egg. If intercourse happens around the time the egg is in the uterus then the chances are that fertilization might occur.
There is no standard medical procedure to determine whether a patient might be suffering from PCOS. The doctor would sit down with the patient and talk about their medical history and diseases running in the family. Below series of tests also help in the diagnosis.
- Blood Test – A blood test can be used to check on the androgen levels, cholesterol level, thyroid disease and diabetes.
- Physical Exam – The doctor will measure your Body Mass Index (BMI), blood pressure and waist size. Other important analysis might include distribution of hair on the chest, back and face, discoloration on the body and size of the thyroid gland.
- Pelvic Exam – A pelvic exams aids in picking up the signs of excess male hormones (enlarged clitoris and swollen/enlarged ovaries.
- Pelvic Ultrasound – Pelvic Ultrasound or a Sonogram uses sound waves to determine the presence of cysts and check the lining of the uterus called endometrium.
How does PCOS affect Pregnancy?
PCOS is known to be detrimental to the mother as well as the baby’s health. Pregnant women suffering from PCOS are more susceptible to