September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Month – 30 days dedicated to educating about the condition that affects 20 per cent of women across the globe – and up to 25 per cent for women of Indian ethnicity. We asked Women’s Health Expert at Dr. Kayle Clinic, Dr. Ferdous Al Saigh, for the lowdown on this increasingly common condition – one of the leading causes of poor fertility.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, affects how a woman’s ovaries work. Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles that are up to 8mm in size. The follicles are under-developed sacs in which eggs develop. In PCOS, these sacs are often unable to release an egg, which means ovulation does not take place.
What are the main features of PCOS?
- Irregular periods – when your ovaries do not regularly release eggs, known as ovulation.
- Excess androgen – high levels of “male” hormones in your body, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair
- Polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs, called follicles, that surround the eggs. Despite the name, however, you do not actually have cysts if you have PCOS.
What causes PCOS?
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 it. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is 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.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
If you have signs and symptoms of PCOS, they will usually become apparent during your late teens or early 20s. Symptoms can include:
- Irregular periods or no periods at all
- Difficulty getting pregnant as a result of irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate
- Excessive hair growth, known as hirsutism, usually on the face, chest, back or buttocks
- Weight gain
- Thinning hair and hair loss from the head
- Oily skin or acne
Does PCOS lead to other health complications?
PCOS can affect other areas of your health, including:
- Infertility or subfertility: PCOS is a common but treatable cause of infertility in women. The hormonal imbalance can interfere with the growth and release of eggs from the ovaries, and cause difficulty in getting pregnant.
- Endometrial cancer: Women with PCOS have higher levels of androgen and oestrogen, and lower levels of progesterone. The increase in oestrogen levels can increase a woman’s risk of getting endometrial cancer
- Diabetes: More than half of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by the age 40. Studies have shown that most women with PCOS are insulin resistant that leads production of high levels of insulin, a characteristic of type 2 diabetes.
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): Women with PCOS are twice as likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea compared to women without the condition, according to a study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology. The hormonal imbalance is linked to the increased prevalence of OSA in PCOS patients.
- A new study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, concluded that women with this hormonal disorder are more likely to develop heart disease. Study author Clare Oliver-Williams from the UK’s University of Cambridge found that women in their 30s and 40s with PCOS were at greater risk of cardiovascular disease. The risk in those under 30 was less clear as there were insufficient women of that age in the study.
- A study by the department of endocrinology and metabolism at All India Institute Of Medical Science (AIIMS) revealed that 20-25 percent of Indian women between the ages 18 and 44 suffer from PCOS. Furthermore, it stated that 60 per cent of women with PCOS suffer from obesity, 35- 50 per cent has a fatty liver, about 70 per cent has insulin resistance, 60-70 per cent has a high level of androgen, and 40-60 per cent struggle with glucose intolerance.
How can you treat PCOS?
There’s no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be treated. If you have PCOS and you’re overweight, losing weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet can make some symptoms better. Specific medicines can treat symptoms such as excessive hair growth, irregular periods and fertility problems, but if fertility medicines are not effective, a simple surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling, or LOD may be recommended. This involves using heat or a laser to destroy the tissue in the ovaries that producing androgens, such as testosterone. With treatment, most women with PCOS are able to get pregnant.
For further information, visit drkayleclinic.com