PCOS: Facts you need to know – Part 1

PCOS
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An increasing number of females of the reproductive age group are being diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), a lifestyle associated hormonal disorder.

PCOS was first reported by Stein and Leventhal in 1935, described as symptoms complex with amenorrhea, hirsutism, and enlarged ovaries with multiple cysts. It is characterized by high levels of androgens (male hormones) in the body.

Prevalence of PCOS in India

A study conducted by the department of endocrinology and metabolism, AIIMS, shows that about 20-25 per cent of Indian women of childbearing age are suffering from PCOS.

ZoneAbnormal PCOS Profiles (%)
North India18.62%
East India25.88%
West India19.88%
South India18%

Contrary to common belief, this condition may occur in both obese and nonobese women; though 80% of females with PCOS are obese.

Symptoms

PCOS is a “syndrome” a group of symptoms that affects the ovaries and ovulation.

Spectrum of Symptoms

Cosmetic symptoms

  • Hirsutism (excess facial hair, male pattern hair growth)
  • Thinning of the scalp (due to high levels of male hormones)
  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Dark or thick skin patches on the back of the neck, in the armpits, and under the breasts

Gynecological symptoms

  • Irregular or scanty periods which are usually the first red flag in adolescents, pelvic pain. This is due to lack of ovulation
  • Multiple cysts formation around the ovaries
  • Infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss affect the women of the reproductive age

Other symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Mood swings

What causes PCOS?

Unhealthy lifestyle habits and a constant stressful environment are also the main attributers along with the following factors for women to develop PCOS:

  • Obesity due to lack of exercise and unhealthy eating habits.
  • Genetics; women whose mother or sister have PCOS are more likely to develop PCOS.
  • Insulin resistance meaning their cells cannot use insulin properly.
  • High levels of inflammation in the body.

Consequences of untreated PCOS

Women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing other health complications.

  • Infertility: PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women.
  • Higher rate of miscarriage, gestational diabetes & premature delivery.
  • Hypertension, High cholesterol, heart attack.
  • Endometrial, ovarian and breast cancer. A lack of ovulation prevents the uterine lining from shedding during every menstrual cycle. Women with PCOS get fewer than nine periods a year and are more prone to a thickened uterine lining. This can cause endometrial hyperplasia and may lead to endometrial cancer.
  • Anxiety and depression: Symptoms of hormonal imbalances can manifest as unwanted hair growth, acne, fatigue, weight gain and even insomnia which may negatively affect a woman emotionally and mentally. Many women with PCOS end up experiencing depression and anxiety.
  • Sleep apnea: It is a serious sleep disorder causing repeated pauses in breathing while sleeping. It is more common in women who are overweight and have PCOS.
  • Metabolic syndrome: Up to 70 percent of women suffering from PCOS hadn’t been diagnosed and it can increase the risk of long-term health issues such as increased blood sugar levels, diabetes, high cholesterol, low cholesterol, and severe heart disease.

Unhealthy lifestyles, unhealthy diets and lack of exercise can aggravate the symptoms of PCOS. Early diagnosis/detection and prompt treatment is key to tackle the problem.

Diagnosis Of PCOS

A complete diagnosis is needed if a woman has at least two to three of the above-mentioned symptoms. Doctors suggest the following array of tools to confirm the same:

  • Pelvic examination.
  • Blood tests including complete sex hormone assay, cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin levels.
  • Ultrasound examination to check for cysts formations.

Unfortunately, PCOS cannot be cured. It can, however, be managed to a large extent by identifying and controlling the cause of the condition. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are the best bet for women with PCOS as this will help to regulate their menstrual cycle and lower blood glucose levels.

Takeaway

Up to 5-10 per cent of weight loss will help improve the symptoms of hormonal imbalance and regularization of menstrual cycle. PCOS among women, especially adolescents, is an urgent public health problem that needs careful assessment, timely intervention and appropriate treatment.

Since PCOS is not a life-threatening disease; many females ignore the common symptoms of PCOS and visit a doctor only when they start facing trouble in conceiving.

Our subsequent post in this series covers topics on the treatment and preventive measures to deal with this notorious syndrome.

Disclaimer

The above article is for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. Please consult a qualified medical doctor for accurate diagnosis and treatment for any symptoms/ailments.

References

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) | National Health Portal Of India

Previous articleHypertension: Everything you need to know – Part 4
Next articlePCOS: Facts you need to know – Part 2
Renu is a Clinical Dietitian and Diabetes Educator. In her last 15 years of practice, she has focused on two things: making her clients learn the concepts of "right diet for them" and giving them "Happy to follow" diet programs by offering healthy alternatives, very close to their regular eating habits. This approach resulted in permanent change in the dietary habits and significant improvement in health status for over 7000 clientele of Renu. Apart from Weight Management programs, she has been successful in dietary treatment of diabetes, thyroid related issues, gut health related issues like acid reflux, constipation and IBS, PCOS and other hormonal imbalances, child nutrition, sports nutrition and all lifestyle related disorders.

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