Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or more commonly known as PCOS - a term you might have come across often when discussing infertility and related issues - is the leading cause of ovulation-related infertility.
What is PCOS?
In simple terms, PCOS is a hormone imbalance leading to problems with normal ovulation. It is characterized by the presence of two or all of the following areas of concern:
Excess production of male sex hormones (androgens), specifically testosterone in females. Although all women produce a small amount of testosterone in their ovaries along with estrogen, the female sex hormone, for normal functioning reproductive tissue and bone mass, however, it is the presence of abnormally high levels of testosterone in a woman that signal towards a serious reproductive problem.
Absent or irregular or menstruation
Presence of ovarian cysts
How do you know if you have it?
There's no single test that can give you a definitive answer about PCOS, however through a combination of blood tests and ultrasounds your doctor can confirm if you have the condition.
Self diagnosis early on is key to proactive treatment and symptom management. It doesn't normally involve a physical form such as the presence of an unusual lump in your armpit or breasts, however by carefully observing your symptoms such as irregular menstruation, difficulty getting pregnant, excessive hair growth on your face, back or chest, obesity, severe acne and unexplained balding/hair-thinning, you can act early and get yourself checked.
PCOS in younger women
PCOS in adolescents might look slightly different. For teens it is mostly the presence of irregular periods or the complete absence thereof, that's an indicator of ovulation related problems. Although, it's normal for young girls to have an irregular period cycle during the first year or so right after starting periods, however if the irregularity persists even after about 2 years or if menstruation does not begin after the completion of puberty, it might indicate a problem with ovulation.
Why has it become so common all of a sudden?
For a condition that affects nearly 10% of all women of reproductive age, the amount of research present on the subject is still considerably limited and consistently evolving. It might seem to be a problem that has surfaced only recently, which is partly true, owing to the gradual increase in insulin resistance in multitudes of people, that is being called an epidemic however, PCOS has been around for a long time but research has only recently established a range of environmental factors and genetics as some of its leading causes. Furthermore, obesity puts you at a higher risk of developing PCOS or having a blood relative, such as your mother or sister, diagnosed with the same condition.
PCOS is the leading cause of infertility and as such women mostly find out about it once they start trying to get pregnant. However as new studies continue to explore the disorder, it has been found to be linked with metabolism and subsequently a number of serious, life-long health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Insulin produced naturally in the human body enables absorption of glucose from the bloodstream. High insulin levels occur when due to a range of factors (including genetics, ethnicity, obesity, lack of exercise, smoking and aging) the pancreas has to work extra hard to produce more and more insulin for aiding glucose absorption by the liver and muscles.
This is why women with PCOS are at a significantly higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in their 40s.
Additionally, PCOS has also been shown to adversely impact heart health. This is linked to its relationship with potentially raising blood sugar levels which in turn can cause a range of cardiovascular diseases.
What's the cure?
PCOS might not have a singular permanent cure however its individual symptoms such as acne, infertility, obesity or hair-loss can be addressed and treated accordingly. You can further work towards making certain diet and lifestyle changes in order to keep it at bay.
Eating a healthy diet rich in proteins, unprocessed carbs (good carbs help in increasing insulin sensitivity), iron, magnesium and vitamins ensures you're getting a balanced mix. If incorporating all these components in your meals seem like a chore, try supplementing your food intake with dietary supplements.
Couple your healthy diet with regular exercise. Consult your physician before deciding on an exercise regimen for yourself and try to be consistent with it. Working out is key to leading a healthy lifestyle. Starting with something simple as yoga or brisk walking a couple of times during the week serve as safe and easily manageable routines.