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PCOS: Signs and Struggles of a Hormonal Syndrome

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a health problem affecting one in ten women of childbearing age. PCOS is caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones that creates problems in the ovaries. This imbalance can lead to infertility (in fact it is the most common cause of that condition), problems with the menstrual cycle and development of cysts in the ovaries. PCOS impacts women of childbearing years and can happen any time after puberty. It has been proven that PCOS can exist in women of any body type.  Since there is a genetic component, it’s a good idea to ask your female relatives if they have PCOS, if you think you might be at risk.

Symptoms

  • Infertility (not able to get pregnant) because of not ovulating.
  • Cysts (fluid-filled sacs) on the ovaries, as determined by medical testing
  • Infrequent, absent, or irregular menstrual periods
  • Insulin resistance or high blood sugar levels
  • excessive hair growth on the body or face
  • Acne, oily skin, or dandruff
  • Weight gain or obesity, usually with extra weight around the waist
  • Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
  • Dark patches on the skin
  • Skin tags — excess flaps of skin in the armpits or neck area
  • Pelvic pain
  • Sleep apnea

Since there is no single test to diagnose PCOS, your doctor may look at your family medical history, blood tests and an ultrasound of your pelvis in addition to a medical exam.

What causes it?

PCOS is mysterious and likely multifactorial, but most research indicates an underlying hormonal issue in which the ovaries make more androgens than normal. Both men and women make androgens but men have more, which is why many PCOS symptoms result in male traits. Another factor involves high levels of insulin, the hormone that controls how the food you eat is transformed into energy. Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, a factor linked with Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Can it be cured?

There is no cure for PCOS, but it can be controlled. Talk to your doctor about medications and treatment plans, especially if you want to get pregnant. Conventional treatments include oral contraceptives, anti-androgenic therapies, insulin management drugs, and oral retinoids for skin issues.

It is important to try to get PCOS under control because studies have found links to diabetes, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol and even endometrial cancer, as well as anxiety and depression.

Lifestyle Modifications Can Help

There is a strong consensus that knowledge and strategies around dealing with insulin resistance is the key to controlling PCOS. Losing weight through healthy eating habits (especially low-glycemic eating) and regular physical activity can help blood sugar levels and reduce abdominal fat. Avoid processed foods, refined sugars, and excessive carbs. The addition of frequent, moderate exercise can also improve PCOS markers, including insulin resistance and a developing more regular menstrual cycle. Recently, more doctors are recommending supplementing with inositol, a nutrient found in legumes, whole grains, meat and citrus fruits. Inositol is a signalling molecule that has shown promise in supporting the healthy functioning of the ovaries. Inositol also influences the action of insulin, improving its function. It may also help reduce triglyceride levels and blood pressure. Research has indicated inositol can improve PCOS symptoms, especially when combined with folic acid, and this is a promising development in getting to grips with this challenging health condition. The good news is that you can control  PCOS – it does not have to control you.

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