Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS is one of the most common hormonal disorders affecting women in their reproductive years worldwide. A recent study found that upto 1 in 5 women are diagnosed with PCOS. PCOS can present as a combination of symptoms and may affect every woman differently. Some common symptoms of PCOS are - irregular periods, acne, excess hair growth, hair fall, mental health concerns & fatigue.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a combination of symptoms that occur due to hormonal imbalances in women. The onset of PCOS in women is often seen in the teenage or young adult years. However, it may develop in older women as well.
Besides the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, the ovaries also produce small quantities of androgens. Androgens are a class of hormones that include testosterone and androstenedione, also referred to as 'male' sex hormones ('male' and 'female' sex hormones, are found in both men and women; however, they differ only in their quantities).
What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?
PCOS can impact various functions in your body based on the hormonal irregularity you experience. The symptoms can exist in different combinations for each individual. Symptoms can include:
- Irregular periods
- Change in the flow of periods - either very light or very heavy
- Increased hair growth all over the body, especially over the belly, stomach, and chest
- Excess, unusual weight gain
- Thinning or balding hair on the scalp
- 'Skin tags' or excess skin around the neck or armpits
- Darkening or thickening of the skin around the neck, armpits or under breasts
- Change in mood
What Causes PCOS?
The cause of PCOS is still unclear. However, there are some theories as to what may be contributing to its development.
Some women may be genetically predisposed to be diagnosed with PCOS. While there is no evidence of a single gene causing PCOS, studies have identified the role of multiple genes in increasing the risk of PCOS in women.
The pancreas produces insulin to process sugar in the blood. When the body cannot use the hormone, it may cause increased insulin production. This may cause ovaries to secrete more androgens. A few factors, such as obesity and the underlying genetics of the person, can cause insulin resistance.
Some studies have linked high levels of inflammation in the body as a cause of PCOS. Again, being overweight can increase the risk of inflammation in the body and thus contribute to the development of PCOS.
How Can PCOS Affect Pregnancy?
PCOS is considered one of the leading causes of infertility in women. Hormonal fluctuation causing irregular periods is one of the most crucial symptoms of PCOS. This interference with the menstrual cycle compromises the ability to get pregnant.
How Can PCOS Be Diagnosed?
Gynecologists globally use the Rotterdam criteria to diagnose PCOS, as per which women with PCOS usually have at least two of the three following conditions:
1. Irregular menstrual cycles
2. Ovaries show fluid-filled sacs or cysts on ultrasound scan
3. Signs of excess androgens ( male hormones) such as acne, hair loss, and hirsutism ( growth of extra unwanted hair) on the face, chin, and other parts of the body.
A gynecologist will look for symptoms of PCOS, based on which they may ask for tests to diagnose the condition. It’s important to rule out underactive thyroid before making a diagnosis of PCOS, as symptoms often look similar.
Lifestyle changes are the most important PCOS treatment. Doctors recommend exercise and a PCOS diet chart to help manage symptoms. Medication can be prescribed by a gynecologist to regulate periods, limit excess hair growth and regulate hormones.