What is PCOS? Your guide to a condition affecting 1 in 10 women
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Polycystic ovary syndrome affects millions of women in the UK and around the world – so what exactly is it?
September marks PCOS Awareness Month – an entire month dedicated to raising awareness of the often unknown (and untreated) female health condition polycystic ovary syndrome, otherwise known as PCOS.
Hormonal imbalance affects millions of women worldwide and one in ten women in the UK – but despite it being so common, there is still a lot of misconception about what it is and how to effectively treat it .
For example, many people assume that PCOS means you can’t have children – when in fact, NHS Reports that most women with PCOS can get pregnant with treatment.
While things are changing – the government has appointed Maria Caulfield as the first female health minister and announced a women’s health strategy following a UK-wide survey that showed damning statistics about the gender health gap and the treatment of conditions like PCOS. How it’s done – more needs to be done.
While there is no cure, there are many ways the disorder can be managed so that it doesn’t affect your life – such as endometriosis symptoms, PMDD symptoms, and PMS symptoms. Below, experts break down the main symptoms and treatment options, along with dispelling some of the more common myths about PCOS.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a female health condition characterized by small, fluid-filled sacs (not cysts, as the name suggests) in your ovaries.
PCOS can cause irregular periods (or even missed periods) as well as a number of other potential side effects.
Dr Anita Mitra aka Gynecologist says, ‘This is the most common female hormonal disorder, with some studies showing that one in five of us are affected. singing gecko,
How can you tell if you have PCOS?
Good question – because it’s not always easy to figure out. Mitra explains that the diagnosis requires two of the following three to be present:
- irregular or absent periods
- Signs of excess male hormones, including excess body, facial hair or acne
- high levels on blood tests
- Polycystic ovaries (as seen on ultrasound).
‘About 70% of women with PCOS also have a degree of resistance to insulin, the hormone that regulates our blood sugar. This results in excess production, which prompts the ovaries to produce a lot of testosterone, which is the root of many symptoms.’
Currently, the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, and although it is believed that there may be a genetic link at play, this has not yet been proven through scientific research.
So, what are the symptoms of PCOS?
There are many different symptoms that are often seen in PCOS cases. ‘The most common symptoms are acne and or problems with periods – either irregular (low bleeding) or complete absence (amenorrhea),’ says Dr Anita.
NHS Lists other common symptoms:
- excessive hair growth on the face and body
- weight gain
- Hair loss
- hair loss from scalp
- Difficulty getting pregnant.
Any of these symptoms are worth a visit to see and discuss with your GP, especially if you are concerned that you may have PCOS.
To diagnose the condition, your doctor will likely arrange some sort of hormonal test, but also to rule out other possible hormonal disorders. They may also arrange for an ultrasound to check your ovulation and a blood test to measure your hormone levels.
However, note: According to the NHS website, more than half of women with PCOS never experience symptoms.
What is the treatment for PCOS?
Know this: PCOS Is Treatable Your doctor will be able to advise what’s best for you, but below we’ve broken down some of the most common.
The pill may work to ease PCOS symptoms — but you should know that the combined oral contraceptive pill doesn’t balance your hormones in the way many people believe, or so shares Anita.
‘This will give you a regular cycle again, but it is likely that your periods will become irregular again once they stop, as it does not correct the underlying hormonal problem. Taking this will usually help with acne as well.
One treatment option for women who wish to become pregnant is medication that stimulates ovulation. The first option is usually a drug called clomiphene And if that doesn’t work, metformin may be recommended.
‘It is diabetes medication that can be used to improve insulin sensitivity, which may be the root of PCOS in many women,’ Anita tells us. ‘It has been shown to improve the regularity of the menstrual cycle and increase the chances of ovulation, which is important if you are trying to get pregnant.’
‘However, the most common side effects are diarrhea and abdominal cramps.’
“A supplement that can be bought over the counter, it has gained a lot of popularity,” explains Anita. ‘It also seems to work as an insulin sensitizer, but it doesn’t seem to have the same side effects as metformin. There are two different types of inositol and it is myo-inositiol The form that appears to be most effective.’
‘However, there haven’t been any major studies or trials done yet, so we’re not really sure of the optimal dosage. That way, you probably won’t find many doctors recommending it yet – but I think it will come in the future.’
Interested in reading more about PCOS supplements? Read a woman’s journey here.
‘Spironolactone is a prescription drug with anti-androgen activity,’ explains Harley Street dermatologist. Dr. Justin Kluk, ‘Higher levels and more potent activity of androgens, such as testosterone, can be seen in women with PCOS and contribute to thinning of hair on the scalp, excess body hair and the characteristic features of acne, known as hyperandrogenism. We do.’
Although medication can be very effective in reducing these symptoms, it is not currently licensed for treating acne in the absence of PCOS. However: ‘Interestingly, it is now believed that 19 to 39% of women with adult acne actually have underlying PCOS,’ Justin says.
Can the PCOS Diet Help?
Next question: Can PCOS be managed with diet and lifestyle? Short answer: Absolutely.
‘It’s one of my favorite topics to talk about,’ enthuses Anita. ‘I did An exhaustive podcast on the topic With Dr. Rupi Aujla.
As this article on PCOS treatment highlights, one of the best ways to prevent insulin resistance is to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Not sure what that means? Try the following:
1. Get More Sleep
The benefits of getting enough sleep are very well documented and if nothing else, we can all agree that we feel better after spending our full eight hours.
But it’s also important in the context of PCOS: ‘It helps reduce levels of stress hormones, which can also increase insulin resistance,’ confirms Anita. If you’re struggling with your sleep at the moment, try one of these great sleep apps.
2. Eat a Balanced Diet
Minimize your intake of added sugar, ignore the ketogenic diet, and instead consider carbs as quality over quantity, advises Anita.
‘Consume whole grains, oats, etc., which are rich in fiber, which will help your body get rid of old estrogen that can otherwise reoccur and worsen hormonal imbalances.’
On each plate, aim for a balance of:
- whole carbs
- Fiber (fruits and vegetables)
3. Aim to Eat Colorful Vegetables
On that note – it’s also important to make sure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals. ‘Aim to eat a really colorful diet to get lots of fiber, but also for everyone phytonutrients (plant-based) containing all the chemicals that are important for healthy hormone production and the chemical processes involved in ovulation,’ she explains.
Healthy fats are also needed for healthy hormone production. Basically the Mediterranean diet has been shown to be the healthiest for PCOS.
4. Tread wisely
did you know? Excessive exercise can worsen hormonal imbalances, Anita says. “Exercise is important for women to help build lean muscle mass, which can increase insulin sensitivity, so can some forms of weight training such as weights or body weight-focused training,” she shares.
‘I don’t think there is one “best” exercise for PCOS – it’s something you love and stick to.’
Yoga (read our round up MCfavorite yoga classes, here) have been shown to be helpful in some studies. ‘I think it can be very useful as a way to build strength as well as relax the mind,’ Anita insists. While you’re here, don’t miss our guide to the different types of yoga poses and yoga poses.
PCOS and Weight Loss
Anita tells us, ‘Many patients tell me they have been told to lose weight. ‘Weight loss will also help with PCOS, as excess adipose tissue can contribute to insulin resistance. However, I never make it the focus of my advice as I think it can be quite negative.’
really, A 2013 study conducted at Georgia Regents University found that the association between PCOS and obesity may be overstated because women who seek treatment will be overweight.
‘If you are able to adapt your lifestyle and focus on the positive things that you can add to your body through diet and movement, I think you can get to the same point but With a healthy mindset.
PCOS and pregnancy
It is true that this condition is one of the leading causes of infertility – but it is very treatable. ‘PCOS can affect fertility as it can prevent ovulation; If you don’t ovulate, you don’t release an egg and therefore can’t get pregnant,’ explains Anita.
As mentioned above, medications are available to stimulate ovulation, and the NHS writes: ‘With treatment, most women with PCOS are able to become pregnant.’
However, Anita reminds us that lack of ovulation ‘does not apply to all people with PCOS’ and, even if you have PCOS and are not currently ovulating, it does not mean that you will not in the future.
‘If you have PCOS and do not want to become pregnant, please use contraception; I’ve seen a lot of “surprising” pregnancies in women with PCOS because they thought they couldn’t get pregnant.’
For more information and resources for living with PCOS, visit the NHS website or pcosaa.org,
If you have PCOS or think you might have it, know this – you’re not alone, and as this article highlights, there are entire communities of doctors, specialists, and women who have helped themselves. prepared for.
Note that this feature is intended to inform, not replace one-to-one medical consultations. Always discuss your health with a doctor for advice tailored specifically to you.