The lowdown on PCOS

PCOS Awareness Month|

September is PCOS awareness month. Our Resident Women’s Health expert, Dr Ferdous, shares her insight into this syndrome which is estimated to affect one in 10 women globally….

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work. In PCOS you do not have cysts, instead the ovaries contain many harmless follicles, which are underdeveloped sacs in which eggs develop. In PCOS, these sacs are often unable to release an egg, which means ovulation does not take place.

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it often runs in families, which suggests that there may be specific genes that are linked to PCOS. In some cases, it can also be related to abnormal hormone levels in the body, including high levels of insulin, a hormone that controls sugar levels in the body.

Many women with PCOS are resistant to the action of insulin in their body and produce higher levels of insulin to overcome this. This contributes to the increased production and activity of hormones including testosterone and androgen, causing difficulty with ovulation, and often resulting in excessive hair growth and acne.

If you suffer from PCOS, the symptoms will usually become apparent during your late teens or early 20s and these can include irregular periods or no periods at all, failure to ovulate, excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks, weight gain, thinning hair and hair loss from the head and oily skin or acne.

Unfortunately, PCOS can affect other areas of your health. More than half of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by age 40. Women with PCOS are two times more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea compared to women without the condition, according to a study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology. A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology has also concluded that women with this hormonal disorder are more likely to develop heart disease.

The most common issue, however, that women with PCOS experience is fertility. If fertility medicines are not effective, a simple surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) may be recommended. This involves using heat or a laser to destroy the tissue in the ovaries that is producing androgens, such as testosterone. With treatment, most women with PCOS can get pregnant.

Currently, there is no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be treated. If you have PCOS and you are overweight, losing weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet can make some symptoms better.

Medicines are also available to treat symptoms such as excessive hair growth and irregular periods.