Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects women who have an imbalance of the female sex hormones. This can cause cysts to form in the ovaries (cysts are fluid-filled sacs that are formed inside or on the ovaries), changes in the skin and menstrual cycle, difficulty in getting pregnant and other health problems. It is also called Stein-Leventhal syndrome, polycystic ovary disease, polycystic ovaries or polyfollicular ovarian disease.
Who are at high Risk ?
Apart from hereditary factors, there are little know reasons why polycystic ovaries symptoms develop in a woman. The cause of polycystic ovary syndrome is an imbalance in the female sex hormones. These include progesterone and estrogen. Women also have the male hormone androgen present – but in smaller quantities. Too much of androgen causes formation of cysts in the ovaries. During menstrual cycle, instead of the eggs maturing and getting released, they form small cysts in the ovaries. PCOS affects teenage girls and women in the age group of 20-30.
In later life, women with PCOS run the risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, high blood cholesterol, diabetes and endometrial cancer.
Symptoms of Polycystic Ovaries
Recognizing polycystic ovaries symptoms helps patients get treatment at once. Different women have different symptoms of PCOS.
Infertility is the major polycystic ovaries symptom. Infertility refers to the inability of women to get pregnant since they do not ovulate – and this is because of polycystic ovary syndrome. Many women discover they have PCOS only when they try to get pregnant and are unable to due to infertility.
Irrgular Menstrual periods: Since PCOS causes women not to ovulate, this leads to absent, and infrequent and/or irregular periods. Some women will get a few normal periods when they are young (puberty) and this can then stop completely. This is called secondary amenorrhea.
Hirsutism: This is another symptom of polycystic ovaries. There is increased hair growth on the chest, face (especially on the chin and upper lip), stomach, toes, back and thumbs. This could be because of the excessive production of androgen – the male sex hormone.
Cysts: These small fluid-filled sacs are formed on the side or outside the ovaries. During menstruation, due to lack of ovulation, ovaries do not mature and get released but rather form cysts.
Oily skin and acne: Skin becomes very oil and prone to acne. Acne is a skin condition that causes whiteheads or blackheads to form on the face, chest and back. Sometimes they can become inflamed and filled with pus. Women also get excessive dandruff. They can develop skin tags – that are excessive skin flaps in the neck or armpits. They also have thick and black or dark brown skin patches on the breasts, thighs, arms, groin and neck. This is due to insulin sensitivity.
Obesity: Women with PCOS often gain excess weight – especially on the waist.
Hair Loss: Similar to men, women with PCOS can get thinning hair or male-pattern baldness.
Pelvic pain: this is felt below the belly button. The pain can be a mild ache or steady and severe. Sometimes it can be so severe that it will be difficult to work or sleep.
Depression and anxiety can also dog women with PCOS. Depression invokes feelings of low self-esteem, sadness and a complete lack of energy and interest in everyday activities. Anxiety disorder creates heightened feelings of fear or panic.
Sleep apnea: This disorder is caused when breathing stops completely for short periods when a person is fast asleep.
Virilization: Apart from hirsutism and male-pattern baldness, women with PCOS can develop other male sex characteristics called virilization. This results in decreased size of breasts, deepening voice, hoarse voice and enlarged clitoris.
What to do?
If women display any polycystic ovaries symptoms, they need to consult a medical professional. There is no cure for PCOS although the symptoms can be treated.
Treatment of polycystic ovaries symptoms
A physical examination will reveal the presence of enlarged ovaries and male sex characteristics like enlarged clitoris. Blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure tests will be conducted. The body mass index (BMI) and abdominal circumference will be determined. Hormone levels will also be checked.
Patients will be told to lose weight and eat a healthy diet – two requisites to control many of the polycystic ovaries symptoms.
Treatment includes giving oral contraceptives, management of hirsutism, and controlling the long term effects of excessive androgen. Infertility treatment will be offered to women who wish to get pregnant. Treatment will be given to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. Women will be encouraged to lose weight to increase the chances of ovulation. For hirsutism, waxing, depilation, bleaching or electrolysis will be done. Appropriate medications will be given depending on the polycystic ovaries symptoms present in the patient – these help with infertility, reduction of unwanted facial and body hair, control of insulin, blood pressure etc.
Women who do not want to get pregnant will be given birth control pills that will control menstrual cycles, clear acne and reduce levels of androgen. Medications for diabetes can also regulate menstrual cycles.
Polycystic ovaries : Prevention and Precaution
Women with PCOS can get pregnant with the right medical and surgical treatment. Complications from PCOS include increased risk of breast and endometrial cancer, obesity and infertility.
Since there is no complete cure for PCOS, women need to manage the symptoms with lifestyle changes that can help control these problems. Overweight women must lose weight by eating a healthy diet, controlling consumption of processed foods that have added sugars, eating more fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products and lean meats. A good exercise regime combined with a healthy diet will keep weight at an optimal level, therefore controlling some of the symptoms of PCOS.
It is important to normalize blood sugar levels and improve insulin functioning in the body. This in turn normalizes hormone levels. Normal periods can be restored with even a 5-10% weight loss.
Women who smoke need to quit for their androgen levels will be higher, causing many of the symptoms of polycystic ovaries. A follow-up check with your doctor is critical, for regular tests for high blood pressure and diabetes are required.