PCOS – short for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is a common condition – 1 in 5 UK women of reproductive age are said to be affected, with between 8-20% of women affected around the world.
This syndrome affects how a woman’s ovaries work. The 3 main features of this syndrome are –
Irregular periods – Ovulation doesn’t occur regularly.
Excess Androgen – High levels of male hormone in your body.
Polycystic Ovaries – The ovaries become enlarged and contain fluid-filled sacs which then proceed to surround the eggs.
Under NHS guidelines, your doctor should confirm PCOS if you present 2 or more of the listed above.
Despite the name PCOS, you don’t actually have cysts. Polycystic ovaries contain harmless follicles which are under developed sacs in which eggs develop.
The signs and symptoms of PCOS usually become apparent in your late teens to early twenties.
I was roughly 19 when I first started experiencing my own symptoms and irregular periods were my main concern. I remember I could go for up to 6 months without a period. This resulted in me struggling to get pregnant, which is one of the worst things any woman can go through. It took me such a long time but I now have a healthy four year old, so don’t give up, it is not impossible. I found out I was pregnant when I was about 6 weeks, I wasn’t having periods at the time so I had no idea.
Other symptoms of PCOS include –
- Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) usually on the face, chest, back and buttocks.
- Weight gain
- Thinning hair or hair loss.
- Oily skin or acne.
Some more surprising symptoms of PCOS include higher levels of depression, skin tags around the neck and armpits, more frequent dandruff, high blood pressure and sometimes a deeper voice.
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, however it has been found to run in families. Hormone levels are abnormal and include high levels of insulin. This is the hormone that controls sugar levels in body. Women with PCOS are resistant to the action of insulin so produce higher levels as a result to overcome this. From this, PCOS is often associated with an increased risk of developing health problems in later life such as Type 2 Diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
Risk factors include obesity, not enough physical exercise and as a stated, a family history of the syndrome. There is no cure for PCOS, however you could treat and ease your symptoms in a number of ways. Lifestyle changes are the most important, such as weight loss and exercise. This can start off as a light walk every day and gradually build this up. Many experts suggest that 150 minutes of exercise per week is ideal, PCOS responds positively to proactive lifestyle choices.
Contraception may help with improving the regularity of periods, excess hair growth and acne.
Insulin resistance can make it harder to lose weight which is why women with PCOS often struggle with this issue. A few changes to your diet could help massively by adding certain foods high in fibre such as broccoli, lean protein such as fish and anti-inflammatory foods and spices such as turmeric and tomatoes. High fibre foods can combat insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and reducing the impact of sugar on the blood therefore being beneficial to women who suffer with PCOS.
Women with PCOS should avoid foods high in refined carbohydrates such as white bread. Sugary snacks and drinks should be avoided and inflammatory food such as processed and red meats.
PCOS is the number one cause of infertility in women. However, you mustn’t give up hope. Knowledge is power and action produces results, making it very likely for your dreams to come true as did mine just over four years ago. Don’t become a statistic. Just be sure to eat healthily, exercise regularly, sleep and rest well, think positively and remember to seek medical advice from your doctor if you have been struggling to conceive.
Getting a diagnosis for PCOS can become very difficult. Please be reassured that it is definitely worth the fight. I remember trying to get a diagnosis for mine, having blood test after blood test, internal and external scans, I even had to have keyhole surgery to rule out any endometriosis. This is not the case for everyone so please don’t worry, this only happened to me because I suffered with a lot of pain. The blood tests and the scan are almost the only way to define PCOS alongside your other symptoms. Please keep pushing your doctor for answers if you think you may be affected.
by Kayleigh Duncan