PCOS - Beyond Menstrual And Reproductive Health

The Endocrine disorder can affect Your Health & Heart; But there are Ways to Tackle It

Many women often struggle with sudden weight gain, acne, irregular periods, and unwanted facial hair, without really understanding the underlying cause of these symptoms. A visit to a gynaecologist can reveal a diagnosis of a condition known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome  (PCOS).  Medical descriptions and mentions of this condition date back to 1935. Despite that, even today, there is a general lack of awareness regarding this condition and it often remains undetected for years. This health condition is estimated to affect about 10 million women globally and 20-25% Indian women of childbearing age.

PCOS is a common endocrine disorder affecting 5-10% of women within the reproductive age bracket. It could lead to hormonal derangement in women, and is characterised by one or all of the following features:

  1. Anovulation, which is lack or absence of release of an egg from the ovary during menstrual cycle
  2. Clinical or biological signs of hyperandrogenism, which could comprise of scalp hair loss, acne, increased body or facial hair
  3. Polycystic ovaries, ovaries having multiple cysts on its outer edges

Causes and symptoms of PCOS

The exact cause of PCOS remains unknown. Experts believe excess testosterone, obesity, insulin resistance, genetic predisposition, and inflammation may cause this condition. Multiple genes contribute towards this condition, and it most likely runs in families. Being overweight leads to inflammation, which impairs cell response to insulin , resulting in insulin resistance. All of these may collectively lead to PCOS.

The most common symptoms of PCOS in women are -

  1. Irregular periods
  2. Heavy bleeding
  3. Unwanted hair growth on face and body
  4. Acne on the face, upper back, and chest
  5. Weight gain
  6. Male pattern baldness
  7. Dark patches of skin on the neck, groin, and under the breasts
  8. Headaches triggered by hormonal changes

This condition disrupts the menstrual cycle, leading to fewer periods  per year. It is usually diagnosed by blood tests, a pelvic exam, or an ultrasound.


The effects of PCOS on the body

Women who have PCOS may also be insulin resistant, making it difficult for their bodies to maintain normal blood glucose levels. A high blood glucose level puts them at an increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes. 7.5% to 10% of those who have PCOS, go on to develop diabetes. And because of insulin resistance, high sugar levels also lead to weight gain around the waist or belly area. This excess weight leads to elevated triglycerides and lower HDL levels or good cholesterol. It affects heart health in women because the condition coupled with excess weight exposes women twice as much to having a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke in their later years. PCOS coupled with Type 2 diabetes, obesity, elevated cholesterol can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases in the long run.

In addition to chronic issues like diabetes and heart diseases, having higher than average male hormones, primarily affects a woman's fertility. To get pregnant, a woman has to release an egg. When the ovaries do not release the egg, there is no fertilisation. This is one of the major causes of infertility in women during their childbearing years. Women dealing with this condition also run low on confidence because of unwanted hair growth and male pattern baldness.


Lifestyle changes to tackle the condition

PCOS is known to trigger stress primarily because of the manifestation of physical symptoms. Getting one’s weight to be in an optimal range is generally recommended as the first line of treatment for women suffering from PCOS. Losing up to 5-10% of the total body weight has shown promising results in regulating the menstrual cycle. 30 minutes of exercise regularizes ovulation and improves insulin sensitivity and overall cardio fitness, contributing to a healthier life.

PCOS in women can also be managed by cutting down on processed foods and having a diet balanced in carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It is important to get the physical symptoms under control and not let the condition affect one’s mental health and overall wellness quotient. Arming oneself with the right knowledge on how to effectively manage the condition and taking charge of one’s health can go a long way for women who have PCOS, to not let the disorder limit their life at any stage.

Disclaimer: This publication/article/editorial is meant for awareness/educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any products. Please consult your doctor/healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.