Several medical conditions are unique to women. One of these is polycystic ovary syndrome. PCOS is a hormonal disorder that can cause abnormal menstrual bleeding, infertility, and other health problems. Despite its prevalence, there is still a lot of misinformation about PCOS. Here's what you need to know about this condition.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder that affects between 6-12% of U.S. women of childbearing age. The overproduction of androgens (male hormones) characterizes the condition. Practitioners' definition of PCOS may vary, but the most common one is by at least two of the following three conditions:
Elevated androgen levels
Androgen is a mostly male hormone. In women, androgens are present in small amounts. However, women with POCS have higher levels of androgens than average.
Ovulation is the process of the ovary releasing an egg. Most women ovulate every month. However, women with PCOS may not ovulate regularly or at all.
The ovaries may develop many small cysts (fluid-filled sacs). They diagnosed PCOS when at least one ovary has 12 or more cysts.
What Causes Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
The cause of PCOS is unknown, but it appears to be linked to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. If you have a family history of insulin resistance or PCOS, you may be at a higher risk of developing the condition. The condition is also more common in women who are obese or have insulin resistance.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
The signs of PCOS can vary from woman to woman. Some have no symptoms at all, while others may experience a wide range of symptoms.
The most common is irregular menstrual periods. This means the average period may be longer or shorter than normal or occur less often. You may also have heavier or lighter bleeding than usual.
Other symptoms include:
PCOS is associated with obesity. Between 38-88% of women with the condition are obese. For women with PCOS, weight-gain results in an apple shape from excess fat in the upper arms, chest, and stomach areas.
Women with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing diabetes. This occurs when your body can't use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Trouble losing weight
Even if you are of average weight, you may have trouble losing or keeping the weight off.
You may experience more breakouts than usual or have more severe acne than expected.
This is when you have hair on the chest, back, or buttocks. For women, it's most common on the face. The hair may be thick and dark.
You may notice thinning hair on the top or front of your scalp.
You may have dark patches of skin, called hyperpigmentation.
PCOS is a common cause of infertility. Women with the condition have a difficult time getting pregnant.
You may be at a higher risk of sleep apnea, which is a condition that causes you to stop breathing for short periods during sleep.
What are the complications of PCOS?
Along with several symptoms impacting daily life, PCOS can present a wide range of complications.
This is a type of diabetes that pregnant women can develop. If you have PCOS, you have an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes.
High blood pressure
You're also at an increased risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke or heart attack.
Miscarriage or low birth-weight
If you get pregnant, you're at an increased risk of miscarrying or having a baby with low birth weight.
Depression and anxiety
The symptoms of PCOS are devastating for many women and can lead to depression and anxiety.
A metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Women with PCOS are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome.
Abnormal uterine bleeding
PCOS can cause abnormal uterine bleeding. This is when you bleed more heavily or for longer periods than usual.
This is a type of liver disease that obesity or insulin resistance can cause. Women with PCOS are at an increased risk of developing nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.
Women with PCOS have an increased risk of endometrial cancer, cancer of the uterine lining.
How is PCOS Diagnosed?
If you have any symptoms of PCOS, it's essential to see your doctor. They can perform a physical exam and order blood tests to check your hormone levels. They may also order an ultrasound to check for cysts on your ovaries.
Treatment for PCOS
There is no cure for PCOS, but there are treatments for the symptoms. The most common treatment is birth control pills, which can help regulate your hormone levels and make your periods more regular. If you're trying to get pregnant, your doctor may prescribe fertility treatments. Clomid is a common fertility drug that can help women with PCOS conceive.
For diabetes, they may also prescribe medication. Metformin is a common treatment for insulin resistance. Also, losing weight can help reduce your symptoms if you're overweight. Because it's more challenging to lose weight if you have PCOS, your doctor may recommend a weight-loss program.
Your doctor may ask you to complete a mental health screening to check for depression or anxiety. If you're struggling with mental health issues, your doctor may prescribe medication or refer you to a therapist.
Lifestyle Changes to Help PCOS
Besides treatment, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help manage your symptoms.
If you have PCOS, you may need to exercise more frequently than the general population. A good goal is to exercise for 30 minutes on most days of the week.
Eating a healthy diet is essential for everyone, but it's especially important if you have PCOS. Eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help you lose weight and manage your insulin levels. You should also avoid processed foods, sugary drinks, and trans fats.
Ask your practitioner about a PCOS diet. Studies have found that the Mediterranean diet may help improve PCOS symptoms. A Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil. It also includes fish and poultry.
Sleep is good for your overall health, and it can also help reduce the symptoms of PCOS. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
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