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When it comes to their health, women have a lot on their plate and any health issue that concerns hormones can make things even more complicated. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects hormone levels in women, where the body produces an excessive amount of the male hormone, androgen. This can impact fertility and increase the risk of other health conditions, like diabetes and cancer. What’s more, research shows that one in 10 women have PCOS.
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe dropped by The Social to discuss the symptoms and some treatments for this often misunderstood and under-diagnosed condition. (And watch the video above to learn more from Dr. Sheila herself.)
What causes PCOS?
The cause of PCOS is still unknown, but some factors that may play a role in developing PCOS are: genetics, weight and having too much insulin in the body. It’s common for those with PCOS to develop these symptoms during puberty, but sometimes PCOS can develop later in life. For instance, it can be in response to substantial weight gain.
Infrequent or prolonged menstrual cycles are the most common sigsn of PCOS. Having no periods at all or experiencing abnormally heavy periods are some signs to consider as well.
Excess hair growth
Having higher levels of androgen can result in excess facial and body hair (neck, chest, arms, and legs). Approximately 70 per cent of women with PCOS develop “male-pattern” hair growth on their upper lip, chin, sides of the face, abdomen, lower back and inner thighs. Some may also experience hair thinning of the scalp and top of the head.
Despite its name, ovarian cysts (fluid-filled sacs) are not automatic signs of PCOS, which means someone with an ovarian cyst does not necessarily have PCOS. However, some women who have been diagnosed with PCOS do report experiencing pain in their pelvis.
About 80 per cent of women with PCOS aren’t able to have children. This is because the hormonal imbalances don’t allow for normal ovulation, and it’s impossible to conceive when ovaries don’t release an egg.
The liver of someone with PCOS can get inflamed due to fat buildup.
Conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels greatly increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Diabetes or insulin resistance
Those with PCOS are four times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those without PCOS. Studies have shown that at least half of the women diagnosed with PCOS will develop prediabetes or diabetes before the age of 40.
Women with PCOS are at risk of endometrial cancer, also known as cancer of the uterine lining. Since there’s no shedding, the lining of the endometrium thickens. Thus, doctors often recommend people with PCOS take medication that will make them menstruate.
How to treat it
Lifestyle changes that will lead to fat loss can help improve PCOS-related symptoms. Dropping 2 to 10 per cent of body fat (or about 5 to 10 pounds) may help with ovulation and fertility.
Combination birth control pills
Pills that have estrogen and progestin lower male hormone production, while regulating estrogen. Taking the pill can also decrease your risk of endometrial cancer, as well as manage PCOS symptoms, such as hair growth and acne.
In order to regulate your periods, you can take progestin for 10 to 14 days every one to two months. Doing so can also lower your risk of endometrial cancer.
Spironolactone can treat excessive hair growth by blocking the effects of androgen on the skin. Effective birth control is needed while taking this medication because it can cause birth defects, therefore it’s not recommended for those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
This is another type of treatment that can reduce hair growth caused by the male hormone. A small needle is inserted into each hair follicle, and then through the needle an electric current is used to damage and destroy the follicle.