Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects women’s fertility. 1 in 10 women of childbearing age (between 15 and 49 years of age) are affected by this condition, making it one of the most common causes of female infertility.
What Is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal condition in which the ovaries fail to release an egg every month. For an ovary to be able to release an egg during each menstrual cycle, it has to produce a high amount of estrogen (a female sex hormone) and very small amounts of androgens (the male sex hormones). However, in the case of PCOS, the ovary produces higher-than-normal amounts of androgens. This interferes with the body’s ability to release an egg (ovulate) and can lead to absent/irregular periods, ovarian cysts, or trouble getting pregnant.
What Causes PCOS?
The exact cause of PCOS is yet to be known. Experts believe factors such as genetics and the environment play a role in the development of PCOS. PCOS is related to:
High levels of Androgens: Androgens are the hormones responsible for the growth and development of the male reproductive system. They are also known as “male hormones”. Surprisingly, these hormones are also present in the female body, but at lower levels. The problem begins in the female body when androgens levels become higher than normal. This disrupts the functioning of the female reproductive system – particularly ovulation. Women with PCOS have higher levels of androgens.
High levels of Insulin: Insulin is the hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar and keeping it at a moderate level. When the body’s cells do not respond to insulin as they ought to (known as insulin resistance), the level of Insulin in the blood becomes higher than normal. Women with PCOS often suffer from insulin resistance.
Signs & Symptoms of PCOS
Some women are not aware they have PCOS until they start having trouble conceiving. Signs of PCOS might include:
- Anovulation: Anovulation occurs when the ovaries do not release an egg during the menstrual cycle. Some women with PCOS do not ovulate, while others ovulate occasionally.
- Irregular period/ Absent period: consistent period delay might be caused by PCOS.
- Excess hair growth on the chin, face, chest, or other parts of the body where men commonly grow hair.
- Acne on the face, upper back, and chest.
- Weight gain/difficulty losing weight: sometimes, weight gain can be a result of irregular periods.
- Darkening skin along the neck creases, below the breasts, and/or in the groin.
- Skin tags: These are small flaps of skin in the neck area or armpits.
- Low Libido.
- Infertility (trouble conceiving).
Can PCOS be Treated?
There is no single cure for PCOS. It can, however, be managed. It’s important to note that the symptoms vary among women with PCOS. Generally, you will work with your doctor to put a management plan based on your symptoms. The management plan will factor in your desire to have children and your risk of future health complications such as diabetes and heart disease.
Losing weight and taking medicine can help ease your symptoms. For women who are not ready for pregnancy, your doctor may recommend hormonal birth control, such as a hormonal IUD, a birth control implant, a patch, a shot, a pill, or a ring, for your PCOS treatment.
When it comes to acne or irregular periods, the pill, patch, or ring might be of particular help.
PCOS and Fertility: Getting Pregnant With PCOS
Women with PCOS may have trouble conceiving, it may also take them longer than expected to get pregnant. Women who have PCOS can get pregnant and carry their babies to full term.
Here’s how you can increase your chances of getting pregnant if you have PCOS:
- Lose Weight: A healthy diet and regular physical activity can regulate your menstrual cycle and improve your fertility if you are overweight or obese. You can work with a dietitian to draw a meal plan that suits your needs.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle: Achieve and maintain a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index), eat more fruits and vegetables, eat whole grains, drink enough water, engage in regular exercise, avoid fast foods, sleep well, and avoid stress.
- Medicines: After ruling out other causes of infertility in you and your partner, your doctor might prescribe some fertility drugs that can help the ovaries ovulate. If you have insulin resistance, some drugs can be recommended to manage insulin resistance.
A final word,
While PCOS remains a common cause of infertility in women, women with PCOS should be aware that conception is possible. Early diagnosis of PCOS can help reduce the risk of future complications. If you think you have symptoms of PCOS, please see a doctor.
Did you know?
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