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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month 

Written by Emily Pazel

 

You’re only as old as you feel. And as time progresses, that old, feel-good saying might become more of a reality as new technology and research emerges As more and more women are affected every day by this extremely common hormonal imbalance and metabolism disorder, it’s good to know that you’re not alone in your fight against Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS, which is the leading cause of female infertility and affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age.

In fact, public organizations,  have worked to designate the month of September as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Month, prompting more awareness and education regarding this serious disorder. 

PCOS is mainly caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones and creates problems in the ovaries, which is the part of the female body that makes eggs that are released each month as part of a healthy menstrual cycle. However, with PCOS, the egg may not develop as normally as it should and may not be released during normal ovulation, which creates infertility issues for women. It also causes the ovaries to develop numerous small collections of fluid-filled sacs known as cysts. 

Since this disorder is so common in women, the chances of you having it (and not knowing) or someone close to you having it, is very high. Between 5-10 percent of women between the ages of 15-44 have been diagnosed with the disorder. But there are questions that we need to get to the bottom of in order to better predict this disorder and become more knowledgeable about it. So, let’s get down to the signs and symptoms of someone who might have PCOS.

 

What are the signs & symptoms of PCOS?

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One commonality shared among women is the not-so-precious gift of monthly menstrual periods that mother nature brings to us at a young age. And when a young girl (between the ages of 10-14) gets her first menstrual period during puberty, PCOS can already start developing at that time. 

While many of the signs and symptoms vary, a diagnosis of PCOS is probable if you experience at least two of these signs:

  • Irregular periods - Typically, a normal cycle happens monthly; however, with an irregular period, you might have periods every other month or even prolonged cycles
  • Excess androgen - Increased levels of androgen (or male hormones) may cause physical signs of PCOS, such as excess facial and body hair and occasionally severe acne and hair thinning
  • Weight gain - When going through PCOS, your body doesn’t process insulin as well as normal and therefore, you may struggle with weight gain and/or difficulty losing weight 

While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, several health experts have narrowed down a few known factors that might play a role:

  • Excess insulin - Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that allows cells to use sugar; however, if your cells become resistant to insulin, then your blood sugar levels can rise and your body might produce more insulin, which then increases androgen production and ultimately creates complications with ovulation
  • Low-grade inflammation - This term is used to describe white blood cells’ production of substances to fight infection; it’s believed that women with PCOS have a type of low-grade inflammation that stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens, which can lead to heart and blood vessel problems
  • Heredity – Although there’s still much to discover about PCOS, researchers believe that it may be linked to certain genes

One of the more complicated factors when dealing with PCOS is on the topic of pregnancy. Does PCOS affect a women’s ability to reproduce? Yes, unfortunately, it does. But the amount that it affects pregnancy can be treated, so let’s take a closer look at how it might affect being pregnant. 

 

How does PCOS affect pregnancy?

For some women, getting pregnant is easy. For others, it can be a difficult process – especially when you’re dealing with PCOS, which is the leading cause of infertility in women. 

Fortunately, with a little education about how to treat PCOS (and maybe a little luck), is it still possible to get pregnant. With PCOS, the hormonal imbalance interferes with how a woman ovulates regularly, and if you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant.  

However, it’s best to consult with your doctor to find ways to help you ovulate and raise your chances of becoming pregnant. Here’s a few things you can do to help:

  • Losing weight - If struggling with weight problems, losing weight through healthy eating and regular exercise can help make your menstrual cycle more regular and improve your fertility
  • Medicine - When visiting your doctor, they may prescribe medications that can help you ovulate, such as clomiphene (Clomid)
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF) - If medicine doesn’t work, IVF may be an option; during IVF, your egg is fertilized with your partner’s sperm in a laboratory and then placed in your uterus to grow and develop; compared with medicine, IVF has a higher pregnancy rate and better control over having multiple babies at once.
  • Surgery - If all options fail, typically surgery is the last option; ovarian surgery usually entails the doctor making a few holes on the surface of your ovary using lasers or fine needles heated with electricity, which usually restore ovulation, but only for 6 to 8 months

While the threatening hormonal disorder can play a role in getting pregnant, there are ways to overcome it and take control of your life. However, PCOS can also affect other health issues, not just pregnancy. It can affect your sugar levels and therefore, you have a higher risk of becoming diabetic. You also might deal with high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, sleep apnea, depression and anxiety, as well as endometrial cancer. Let’s look at a few different ways you can try to help prevent these health problems from occurring.

 

What can you do to help lower risks for PCOS?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for PCOS. However, it can be managed with the right treatment and remedies. Here’s a few steps at home to help your PCOS symptoms:

  • Losing weight - Not only can this help with pregnancy, but healthy eating habits and regular exercise and vastly relieve PCOS-related symptoms; by losing weight, you can help lower your blood glucose levels, improve the way your body uses insulin, and help your hormones reach normal levels; even a 10% loss in body weight can help make your menstrual cycle more regular and improve your chances of getting pregnant
  • Limit carbohydrates - low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets might increase insulin levels; consult with your doctor about how a low-carbohydrate diet might help with PCOS
  • Be active - When you exercise, you can help lower blood sugar levels, which in return, helps prevent insulin resistance and avoid developing diabetes
 

If by chance you become pregnant and you have PCOS, another thing you might want to consider is that you and your baby are at higher risk for experiencing problems during pregnancy. Unfortunately, women with PCOS have higher rates of miscarriages, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, needing a cesarean section, and possibly spending more time in the NICU.

However, you can lower these risks by reaching a healthy weight and having healthy blood sugar levels before becoming pregnant, and by taking folic acid on a daily basis.

As researchers look to find an exact cure and reason why so many women are being diagnosed with PCOS, it’s good to consider that there might be hope in the future for answers against this serious hormonal disorder.

 

What does the future hold for PCOS?

Presently, there is no cure and no exact reason as to why PCOS exists. As of right now, we only know how it affects our bodies and how we can effectively manage it so that it doesn’t threaten our way of life. Researchers continue to search for answers and new ways to treat PCOS. 

Some researchers are looking for links between genetics and PCOS, environmental exposure and PCOS risks, ethnic and racial differences in PCOS symptoms, medicines and supplements to rejuvenate ovulation, obesity and links to PCOS, and much more.  

As more women are diagnosed every day with PCOS, it’s a good idea to help spread awareness about the hormonal disorder in order to try to manage it head-on. And remember, you’re not alone in this battle. It’s important to stay positive and consult with your doctor if necessary.

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For more information on how to get involved, please visitThe National Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association.