Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a medical condition that affects a woman’s hormone levels. Women with PCOS produce higher-than-normal amounts of male hormones. This hormone imbalance causes them to skip menstrual periods and makes it harder for them to conceive a child. PCOS also causes hair growth on the unusual body parts including face and neck, and sometimes leads to female baldness. It can also contribute to long-term health problems like diabetes and heart diseases.
PCOS affects a woman’s ovaries, the reproductive organs that produce estrogen and progesterone (hormones involved in the menstrual cycle regulation). The ovaries also produce a small amount of male hormones called androgens.
PCOS has three main features:
- cysts in the ovaries
- high levels of male hormones
- Irregular menstrual cycle
Symptoms of PCOS
Some common symptoms of PCOS are
- Hair loss from your scalp and/or hair growth (hirsutism) in unexpected places (Face, chin, neck etc.)
- Oily skin and acne problems
- Infertility or repeated miscarriages
- Weight gain, especially around your waist
- Menstrual problems
- Depression, anxiety and/or mood swings
- excess androgen levels
- sleep apnea
- high stress levels
- high blood pressure
- skin tags
- Dandruff issues
- high cholesterol and triglycerides in body
- dark patches of skin
- decreased libido
- insulin resistance
- type 2 diabetes
- pelvic pain
- weight management difficulties including weight gain
Causes and Risk Factors of PCOS
Exact cause of PCOS is yet to be identified. However, several factors cam be linked to it. These include:
- Genetic Heredity: Having a family history of PCOS (A close relative with PCOS) increases your chances of developing it.
- Increased levels of insulin: This makes the body cells resistant to it which can in return cause increased androgen production and difficulty in ovulation.
- High levels of androgen: Too much androgen production by ovaries result in hirsutism and acne.
When to see a doctor?
You need to see a doctor if you experience one of the following symptoms:
- Irregular menstrual cycles, skipping periods when you are not pregnant
- You’ve been trying to get pregnant for more than 12 months but haven’t been successful.
- You’re experiencing symptoms of diabetes i.e.,
- frequent urination
- increased thirst
- blurred vision
- tingling or numbness in your hands and feet
- An increased appetite etc.
- You’re suffering with depression or frequent mood swings
- You have clear symptoms of PCOS, such as hair growth on your face and body.
Your doctor will start with a discussion of your medical history, including your menstrual periods and weight changes. A physical exam will include checking for signs of excess hair growth, insulin resistance and acne. He might also recommend you one of the following tests
- A pelvic exam: Inspections of reproductive organs for masses, growths or other abnormalities.
- Blood tests:Analysis of blood for measuring hormone levels.
- An ultrasound:Checking of the appearance of ovaries and the thickness of the lining of your uterus.
Your doctor might recommend some additional tests for complications once you are diagnosed with PCOS including;
- Periodic checks of blood pressure, glucose tolerance, and cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Screening for obstructive sleep apnea
- Screening for depression and anxiety
PCOS treatment mainly focuses on individual concerns, such as infertility, hirsutism, acne or obesity. Specific treatment might involve lifestyle changes or medication.
Weight loss through a low-calorie diet combined with moderate exercise activities (losing about 5 percent of your body weight) might improve your condition. Lifestyle changes can also increase the effectiveness of medications and can help with infertility.
- For the regulation of your menstrual cycle, your doctor might prescribe you some Pills that contain estrogen and progestin for decreasing androgen production as well as regulating estrogen levels in the body.
- Progestin therapy.It involves an intake of progestin for 10 to 14 days (every one to two months). A progestin therapy can regulate your periods and protect against endometrial cancer. However, it doesn’t improve androgen levels and doesn’t help in preventing pregnancy. If you also wish to avoid pregnancy, progestin-only mini-pill or progestin-containing intrauterine device can work better.
For helping you to ovulate, your doctor might prescribe you one of these:
- Clomiphene (Clomid) (Oral anti-estrogen-during the first part of your menstrual cycle)
- Letrozole (Femara).( For the stimulation of the ovaries)
- Metformin (Glucophage, Fortamet, others).(Oral medication for type 2 diabetes -improves insulin sensitivity and lowers insulin levels.)
For the reduction of excessive hair growth, your doctor might recommend you to take:
- Birth control pills.(decrease androgen production that might be causing excessive hair growth)
- Eflornithine (Vaniqa).(decreases facial hair growth in women)
- A tiny needle is inserted into each hair follicle which emits a pulse of electric current to damage and eventually destroy the follicle. Multiple sessions are often required.
Since, Eating processed and preserved foods can contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance, the intake of “right” food can help you in managing the PCOS symptoms.
- You can add whole foods like Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes to your diet. This way you can regulate your Blood sugar levels without hormones and preservatives,
- Proteins stimulate your body to produce insulin while unprocessed carbohydrates can improve insulin sensitivity. A balance of both can help you in reducing the risks associated with PCOS.
- PCOS is a low-level chronic inflammation. Adding anti-inflammatory foods like
Olive oils, tomatoes, leafy greens, fatty fish like mackerel and tuna, and tree nuts can be helpful in this regard
- If your diagnosed with iron deficiency or anemia due to heavy bleeding in periods , increased intake of iron rich foods like spinach, eggs, and broccoli can help in fulfilling the needs of your body.(Never increase your iron intake without consulting your physician first as too much iron can lead to further complications)
- PCOS-friendly foods rich in magnesium are Almonds, cashews, spinach, and bananas.
- A diet high in fiber can help improve your digestion. This includes Lentils, lima beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pears, and avocados.
- Caffeine consumption may be linked to changes in estrogen levels and hormone behavior. A better replacement for caffeine is the “green tea” because it can reduce your body’s insulin resistance.
Some other Ingredients/ supplements which can help you in fighting against PCOS are:
- Inositol (B vitamin that can help in improving insulin sensitivity and fertility)
- Chromium (stabilizes insulin resistance by helping in sugar metabolism)
- Cinnamon (decrease insulin resistance and regulates menstruation)
- Turmeric (Contains anti-inflammatory agent called curcumin; helps in decreasing insulin resistance)
- Zinc (boosts fertility and immunity; might help in getting rid of unwanted hair growth)
- Evening primrose oil (helps with period pain and irregular menstruation, improves cholesterol levels)
- Vitamin D and calcium (improve irregular periods and help in ovulation)
Research shows that acupuncture can be considered as an alternative treatment for PCOS as it increases the blood flow to ovaries, reduces cortisol levels, helps with weight loss and improves insulin sensitivity.