Having babies is a dream of most women yet several diseases can bring this dream to a halt, prominent among them is Polycystic ovary syndrome, PCOS. The sad reality is that most women are unaware and learn about it when the symptoms become severe. It affects women between 15 to 44 years old. How can we detect this ailment or prevent its occurrence entirely?
What is PCOS?
As the name suggests, it is an ovary that is made up of cysts. The ovary is the organ responsible for producing the egg which the sperm fertilizes. A cyst is an abnormal growth, usually non-cancerous that is filled with a liquid or semi-solid substance that causes pain.
In PCOS, the ovaries contain a great number of follicles that have become bigger than normal, usually 0.3inches in size. The follicles are sacs inside the ovaries that support the development of the eggs. They release hormones that regulate the stages of the menstrual cycle. Women with PCOS have difficulty releasing eggs, inhibiting ovulation and subsequently fertilization.
In an ultrasound, a polycystic ovary displays the cysts as black holes in the ovaries. Most people with PCOS may never know unless they attempt getting pregnant, go for a routine check-up, or discover it later in their 20s.
Symptoms of PCOS
· The most common is menstrual irregularity. This is because the follicles do not release eggs during ovulation. Women with PCOS have oligomenorrhea – fewer than 6-9 periods a year. Many a time, such women have delayed menarche- the first occurrence of menstruation. Also, such women may end up experiencing no menstruation at all in their adulthood.
· Some may experience heavy bleeding because the uterine wall builds up for a long time.
· The above results in difficulty getting pregnant or even complications during successful pregnancy.
· One major symptom is hyperandrogenism which simply means excess androgens. Androgens are the male sex hormones. Even though they are present in females, they are little in number. However, PCOS causes the androgens to be more which causes symptoms such as acne (pimples) on the face. Another symptom is hirsutism which is excessive hair growth usually on the face, chest, back, belly or buttocks.
· Another symptom is hair loss on the head.
· Some women also gain weight, especially in the abdomen.
· Others experience headaches.
Women who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of getting PCOS.
PCOS does not only cause fertility problems but can increase your risk of certain medical conditions later in life such as:
1. Type 2 diabetes- obesity which comes as a result of excess sugar in your body and blood can cause a lifelong condition with your blood sugar becoming high.
2. Sleep apnea- a condition that causes interrupted breathing during sleep ultimately disrupting a good night sleep.
3. Depression- the hormonal changes together with the symptoms such as facial hair growth and others can cause depression and anxiety among these women.
4. Mood swings as a result of hormonal changes which may temper their self-esteem.
5. Endometrial cancer-during ovulation, the uterine lining sheds. If a person has PCOS, they don’t ovulate. When that happens for years, the walls can thicken and increase your chance of endometrial cancer.
6. Infertility- a woman needs to ovulate-release the eggs to be fertilized by a sperm. In PCOS, women may have difficulty ovulating which ultimately causes infertility.
7. Heart disease- obesity can cause high blood pressure that can lead to several heart diseases.
8. Stroke- this is due to the presence of high cholesterol specifically low HDL (good cholesterol) and high LDL (bad cholesterol).
Causes of PCOS
PCOS is a serious condition in women. The exact cause of the disease is unknown but it is associated with abnormal hormone levels. This is how it works:
· Insulin resistance
Insulin is the hormone that is produced by the organ pancreas. It converts excess glucose in the blood into cells and tissues which are broken down to produce energy for life processes.
When insulin resistance occurs, it means the body needs to produce more insulin to force the tissues to allow the conversion of glucose into cells and tissues.
More insulin inadvertently causes the ovaries to produce more testosterone which interferes with the normal development of the follicles and ovulation.
· Hormonal imbalance
Many people who have had PCOS have had abnormal levels of hormones in their bodies. Below are a few:
Increased level of the testosterone-a male hormone even though women possess small amounts. Testosterone is the most common androgen.
Increased level of prolactin-the hormone that stimulates breast glands to secrete milk.
Women who have relatives who have had PCOS have an increased risk of getting them as it runs in the family.
Diagnosis of PCOS
A person can only be diagnosed at a health facility only. The symptoms only give an indication that something is wrong. The diagnosis is based on three criteria:
· Irregular periods which indicate a problem with ovulation.
· An ultrasound showing the cysts in the ovaries.
· Blood test that detects abnormal levels of the male hormones or sometimes just an abnormal level of hormones.
Treatment of PCOS
PCOS cannot be cured but it can be managed effectively.
1. Weight loss- lifestyle changes that aim to reduce obesity or overweight can cause significant in PCOS recovery.
2. Medicines- some medications can be given to reduce the symptoms and aid with recovery.
3. Surgery- individuals who do not respond to medication may undergo surgery where an instrument is passed through the abdomen where the tissues that cause the hormonal balance are destroyed.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, PCOS, is becoming an increasing threat, especially among young women. If you observe any of these symptoms, kindly rush to the nearest health facility to be checked. Your health is your wealth!
- NHS. Polycystic ovary syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/
- Mayo clinic. PCOS. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439
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