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What is PCOS, and How Can It Affect You?

 

Photo Credit: Cure Plus, Flickr

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a state that disturbs a woman’s hormone levels. Women with PCOS develop higher than normal amount of male hormones. PCOS also causes facial and body hair growth. And in the long run, it can also contribute to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

Read on for a better understanding of PCOS and its symptoms, effects and treatment info.

Understanding PCOS

PCOS is a complex problem to recognize because there are many symptoms and it is not necessary that you will have all of them. There are few women that have the same set of symptoms. You might have multiple ‘cysts’ on your ovaries, but it is not compulsory that you have multiple ‘cysts’ to have PCOS and also if you have multiple ‘cysts’ it is not compulsory that you have PCOS.

Photo Credit: Natalie Namoi, Flickr

PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder affecting most of the women in their reproductive age (18-44). Up to fifteen percent of women having this syndrome don’t even know it because PCOS shows up as any combination of different symptoms, and so it is not easy to diagnose.

It mainly affects a woman’s ovaries, the reproductive organs that regulate the menstrual cycle. In PCOS, many small, fluid-filled sacs develop inside the ovaries. These sacs are actually follicles, which contain an immature egg that never matures to activate ovulation. And the lack of ovulation changes levels of estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH. Estrogen and progesterone levels go lower than usual, while androgen levels go higher than usual.

Symptoms of PCOS

PCOS symptoms can be seen in many different ways. Some women having PCOS will have only mild symptoms, while others will have severe symptoms. Here are some of the common symptoms of PCOS.

Periods

High levels of androgens and also the hormone insulin can disturb the monthly cycle of ovulation and menstruation in some women. But the case is not same for all, some women with PCOS have regular periods. If you have PCOS, your periods may be irregular or stop altogether. An irregular period cycle is defined as eight or less menstrual cycles per year or having menstrual cycles longer than 35 days.

As menstrual cycles lengthen, ovulation may occur infrequently or stop completely. Also, during the periods, the bleeding can be heavier or lighter than usual.

Excess hair

Excess facial or body hair can be seen due to high levels of androgens stimulating the hair follicles. The hair typically starts growing on the chin, upper lip, around the nipples, lower abdomen, chest, and thighs where it is more common for men to grow hair.

Acne

If you have PCOS, you can experience a lot of acne because the higher level of androgens can increase the size of the oil production glands on the skin.

Infertility

Photo Credit: Amna Butt, Flickr

High levels of androgens and high insulin levels can affect the menstrual cycle and prevent ovulation. This can make it difficult for women to conceive, and there is also a greater risk of miscarriage. However, this does not denote that all women with PCOS are infertile.

Psychological effects

Going through so many problems like severe acne, weight gain and infertility may lower your confidence which may add to depression and anxiety levels.

Causes of PCOS

The cause of PCOS is not known yet but family history, insulin resistance, and lifestyle or environment seems to have a connection somewhere.

Genetic

If someone in your family has PCOS, you also have chances of having it, but it is not always necessary. Type 2 diabetes is also common in families of those with PCOS. Though no single gene has been found to cause PCOS so far, the link seems to be complex and involves multiple genes.

Insulin resistance & lifestyle

When you have PCOS, the insulin does not work effectively and the body is forced to produce more insulin.  These high levels of insulin can boost the production of testosterone, in the ovaries which aid hair growth and acne and symptoms such as irregular periods, and trouble ovulating.

Lifestyle factors such as being overweight, eating disorder or being physical inactive cause insulin resistance. But the slim women with eating disorder and being physically inactive can also have insulin resistance.

Weight

Being above a healthy weight worsens the symptoms of PCOS. To treat PCOS, it is suggested to lead a healthy lifestyle and be more physically active.

Diet and Lifestyle tips to treat PCOS

Treatment for PCOS typically starts with lifestyle changes like weight loss, diet, and exercise.

Diet

Thought any diet that helps you reduce weight is good but according to the studies comparing diets for PCOS have found that low-carbohydrate diets are useful in both weight loss and lowering insulin levels. A low glycemic index (low-GI) diet in which you get most of the carbs from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps normalize the menstrual cycle.

You should include more whole foods such as meat, vegetable, fruits, nuts and seeds in your diet. Also, anti-inflammatory foods like dark leafy vegetables, berries, beans and lentils, green tea, olives, spices, and herbs also help. The food you should avoid is dairy products, gluten, and soy.

Exercise

Studies have found that if you do 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least four days a week, it can help you lose weight. Here are a few exercises that you can do at home or include in your daily gym workout for better results.

Squats: Squats collectively work the biggest muscle groups in your body (quads, glutes, back, and core) and thus should be included in your daily workout regime. You can use the squatting motion to sit, stand up, and pick things up.

Push-ups: When it comes to upper body exercises, nothing can beat the push-up. They strengthen your upper body along with your core, glute and leg muscles. Push-ups burn calories and build strength.

High-intensity interval training is a method of cardio exercise that is great for women with PCOS. It can increase your insulin sensitivity, help you lose fat, and improve your body’s ability to burn fat.

When it comes to PCOS, losing weight is more than just being thin as it will help you to put a check on PCOS-related complications like infertility and diabetes.

Right exercise with healthy and balanced diet can help you beat PCOS without medications. Don’t push yourself into something that you are not comfortable in as you need a long-lasting, healthy body.

Final Words

So, after reading this, if you suspect you may have PCOS, it is really important you see a doctor. There are some blood tests and ultrasound that can confirm the same. You may consult an endocrinologist (hormone specialist) or gynecologist for a detailed assessment.