PCOS – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – is a condition in women that affects the ovary and its production of the essential hormones, thereby causing a negative impact on the chances of getting pregnant and overall health.
Most women in their active reproductive years, suffering from PCOS, have no idea what they are dealing with. They do not even know they have this syndrome, let alone talk of knowing how it can be treated. PCOS makes the affected woman’s endocrine system produce less of the hormones that promote female fertility and produce more androgens than is normal in females.
After reading this article, you will have a deep understanding of what PCOS -Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – is all about. You will also know the causes of PCOS, its symptoms, and appropriate treatments.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, also called PCOS for short, is a condition that is affiliated to the less reproductive ability and overall health of women in their active reproductive years due to the increased production of male hormones in their system than the female reproductive hormones.
PCOS begins with the reduced level of the female reproductive hormones such as the estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormones, and follicle-stimulating hormone. These hormones are essential in maintaining the timing of the menstrual cycle. A woman with PCOS will have these hormones at low levels and will consequently, skip her period at one time or the other.
For reproduction to take place, the ovaries need to release eggs that must be fertilized by a man’s sperm, this process of egg release is called Ovulation. The eggs to be released are borne in a sac called Follicle. The Follicle is produced by the ovary and its production is triggered by the Follicle-stimulating Hormone (FSH). The release of the egg in the sac, when it attains maturity, is stimulated by the luteinizing hormone (LH).
The ovary also produces some androgens – male hormones just as men have a level of estrogen in them. When the level of androgen the ovary produces is more than the female reproductive hormones, there is disruption in ovulation, hence, PCOS.
When there is insufficient level of FSH and LH, there will be no release of mature egg or eggs. This means there is no possibility for fertilization to take place since there was no ovulation. Also, it is impossible to have menstruation in that cycle since no egg was released.
Therefore, PCOS is a syndrome that affects ovulation and consequently, fertility of women in their active reproductive years. It is also important to note that the presence of the abnormally high levels of androgen cause other things such as facial hair growth, ineffective use of insulin, among others.
What Causes PCOS?
The cause of PCOS is unknown, although it is believed that the higher than normal levels of androgen in affected females may be the cause. the male hormones inhibit the production of the female reproductive hormones.
The ovary produces follicles, each containing eggs. Due to the insufficient levels of the female reproductive hormones, the eggs do not mature and consequently, do not get released.
Despite the fact that the cause of this increased androgen levels that contributes to PCOS is unknown, it is believed that genetics, inflammation, and cells resistance to insulin contribute to polycystic ovary syndrome.
Many diseases are associated to the genetic inheritance that has been in the family for a while, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is one of them. Studies have shown that PCOS can be gotten through genetic inheritance and it is likely that more than one gene carries the PCOS transference ability.
Cells resistance to Insulin
Insulin is produced by the pancreas in order to help the cells in the body utilize blood sugar to produce energy. When the insulin produced by the pancreas cannot be used by the cells effectively, the pancreas produces more insulin. This causes the ovary to produce more androgen.
This can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Being overweight or obese is an issue that may arise from ineffective use of diabetes and can also be the cause for inflammation in the body. The more inflammation there is in the body, the more androgen levels in the body, according to research.
As we know by now, the more androgen levels in the female body, the lesser the chance of ovulation, hence, PCOS.
What are the Symptoms of PCOS?
PCOS affects females in their active reproductive years, that is, symptoms for PCOS begins to manifest as early as the first menstrual period in some people while it is snot apparent in some until they have difficulty getting pregnant or they start to gain weight inexplicably.
Whichever, category you may fall into, here are some common symptoms that you may notice if you have PCOS.
Irregular menstrual periods
The menstrual period is a part of the menstrual cycle. It is the time of the month when the endometrium – prepared for the implantation of fertilized egg – breaks down when there has been no fertilization and it’s removed from the body with blood through the vagina.
The insufficiency of the follicle-stimulating and luteinizing hormones makes it impossible for ovulation to occur and inadvertently, there is no egg to implant in the endometrium and it does not break down, leading to a missed period.
Facial and body hair
Facial hair is normally grown in males due to the increase in androgen levels when they attain puberty. However, females that have unusually amount of hair on their body, especially on their face as is characteristic of males, is likely to have PCOS.
Due to the level of androgen in the males, their skin is oily and susceptible to acne breakouts on their faces, backs, and even chests. When females experience acne breakouts on their chests and backs, they may have PCOS.
Sometimes, there is no menstrual period. Other times, when there is, the blood flow is usually more than it should. This is because the uterine lining, endometrium, has built up for a longer time and when it breaks down, it is more than the usual amount.
People with PCOS are usually overweight due to the ineffective use of insulin that makes it impossible for body cells to use up blood sugar. This inability displayed by the cells lead to the storage of excess glucose and consequently, leads to obesity.
Headaches are triggered by hormonal changes in many women. When the ovary produces insufficient FSH and LH, and increases its production of male hormones, it may cause headache in some women.
A sign that you might have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is when the hair on your scalp begins to get thinner. Sometimes, they fall out from inexplicable cause. This is characteristic of men and when noticed in women, it means there is a high level of male hormones in that female.
The skin folds that appear on your neck, under your breasts, and in your pubic area becomes darkened than the other parts of your skin. It is a sign of PCOS.
How can I know I Have PCOS?
To know you have PCOS, you must be diagnosed of it through examination by your doctor. Your doctor needs to see that you have any two of the following symptoms.
- Irregular menstrual periods
- High androgen (male hormones) levels
- Ovarian Cysts
Other symptoms as listed above are important but they are derived majorly from these three.
Questions about your skin; acne breakouts, dark patches, facial and body hair, scalp hair, weight gain and blood sugar level will be asked. To ascertain that these symptoms exist, your doctor will perform or recommend you do these tests.
- Pelvic examination; to see by the feel of hand, if your ovaries has any abnormal growth.
- Ultrasound scan; to see detailed information about your ovaries. Do they have cysts growing on them or not?
- Blood test to test for the level of male hormones in your body.
Effects of PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome interferes with the female reproductive hormones and consequently causes some problems. Some of the problems or effects of PCOS attributed to the reduced level of female reproductive hormones – estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone – are:
It is impossible to get pregnant without ovulating. Since the eggs in the ovary are immature, they cannot be released and even with the presence of a healthy sperm cell, pregnancy cannot happen without a mature egg.
The uterine lining builds up in expectation of the implantation of the fertilized egg. When no egg is implanted, the uterine lining does not break down. Instead, it continues to build up into the next menstrual cycle.
This continuous build up increases the risk of developing endometrial cancer.
Apart from the effects PCOS has through the insufficiency of the female reproductive hormones, the increased androgen levels also cause some health problem such as:
Treatment of PCOS
PCOS can be treated using a combination of diet and exercises to change the lifestyle of the affected females.
Since conditions like obesity and diabetes contribute to PCOS, following a healthy diet plan that address these conditions will inadvertently help to treat PCOS. Foods that have low glycemic index, high in fiber and complex carbohydrates will help to curb weight gain, improve weight loss and control blood sugar level.
A combination of this diet plan and exercising with moderate intensity will further improve the treatment of PCOS.
However, there is the option of treating PCOS with medications as prescribed by your doctor based on his diagnosis. Medications that may be prescribed include Clomiphene, birth control pills, Metformin for type 2 diabetes, and medicine to curb hair loss.
Also, surgery might be needed to remove the cysts on the ovary.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, PCOS, is a condition that affects females in their active reproductive years only. Its cause is not known but it is believed that an increase in the level of male hormones produced by the ovary and reduced female reproductive hormones contribute to it. Conditions such as diabetes and obesity also contribute to the occurrence of PCOS.
Treatment for PCOS include medications to treat symptoms, surgery to remove cysts on the ovaries, and a combination of diet and exercises to improve healthy lifestyle.
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Ayomide, is a Health professional, who has worked in most healthcare unit and has a background in Nursing.