Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is an endocrine disorder that affects 1 in every 10 women in the UK between the ages of 18 and 44. ‘Polycystic Ovaries’ are ovaries that contain multiple ‘cysts’ (they’re not as big as your average cyst and are (usually) no bigger than 8mm). But what causes Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and how is it treated?
What causes PCOS?
PCOS has no known cause (it had to be difficult!) however, researchers have discovered a number of hormone abnormalities that impact the severity and range of symptoms a woman may have.
Lack of physical activity, lack of sleep, elevated testosterone levels from the ovaries, and even a woman’s family genetics are all common causes of PCOS.
The complicated thing about PCOS is that not everyone has Polycystic Ovaries, and there is not one shared symptom. Doctors will conduct a series of tests and scans and you would have to tick a few boxes before being diagnosed. Some things doctors look out for include:
- In the Pelvic Ultrasound, they may look for Follicular Cysts or enlarged ovaries. If a woman does have follicular cysts, the ovaries won’t release eggs.
- You may have an increase in your blood pressure
- Testosterone Levels
Women may also be referred to a gynaecologist (doctors that care for a woman’s reproductive system) or an endocrinologist (this doctor specialises in the hormonal system).
A misconception of PCOS is that women should lose weight. However, as you can see, it takes a bit more than that!
Types of PCOS
As if PCOS wasn’t confusing enough, there are 4 different types. Again these vary between each woman and may even overlap with each other. Here’s a breakdown of the types of PCOS:
- Insulin Resistant- Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas in the body and helps to control the amount of sugar in the blood. Insulin helps to move glucose from blood into the cells where it is broken down to produce energy. Women with this form of PCOS have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels.
- Post-Pill- For some women, symptoms of PCOS can start after coming off oral contraceptive (i.e. The dreaded pill). A woman’s period may have been normal before/whilst taking the pill.
- Inflammatory- High-level inflammation stems from an overactive immune system. Signs of inflammation include joint pains, headaches, unexplained fatigue and skin conditions such as eczema or hives.
- Adrenal- This type of PCOS is driven by a woman’s response to stress. Women with adrenal PCOS are either experiencing high levels of stress or their bodies are reacting differently to it. Women with this type will have high levels of DHEAS (an androgen produced in the adrenal glands such as testosterone).
The Symptoms of PCOS
The symptoms of PCOS differ from woman to woman, however, the most prevalent ones are as follows:
- Irregular periods or having no periods at all
- Hirsutism- Having excessive body and facial hair
- Infertility/Difficulty getting pregnant
- Weight gain
- Oily skin and acne
Symptoms of PCOS generally appear in a woman’s early years, although some do not develop until later in life.
Can PCOS Be Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for PCOS. Treatments for PCOS, on the other hand, necessitate lifestyle modifications. This includes exercise (usually weighted), taking medication (such Metformin, Inositol) and diet (reducing dairy and gluten). Make sure you consult your doctor before making any new changes!
Long-Term Health Effects
The out-of-whack symptoms can create an awkward cycle for your period. However, if not treated correctly, there can be long-term health consequences. Some consequences include Type 2 Diabetes, fertility problems, heart disease and cancer.
If you’re concerned that you may have PCOS, contact your GP for a check in!