1 in 10 Women Have PCOS: Here’s How It Can Affect Your Body

Have you been struggling with acne? What about weight fluctuations and what seems to be excessive hair growth on your face? Or, maybe, do you have irregular periods? There’s a chance you could be suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS affects as many as 1 in 10 women worldwide. It is most obvious in women of childbearing age – unfortunately, it affects our ovaries as it produces estrogen and progesterone. These reproductive hormones are thrown out of whack because of PCOS, causing havoc on your body.

 

Its symptoms can cause a range of emotions from embarrassment to upset but, most of the time, women don’t even notice that they have PCOS. This is because less than 50% of women with PCOS are properly diagnosed. When left undiagnosed, PCOS can develop into more alarming health issues. Let’s go into more detail:

 

What causes PCOS?

 

Doctors believe that PCOS happens when our bodies produce a higher percentage of male hormones. As a result, our ovaries are prevented from producing hormones and developing eggs normally. However, this is a basic understanding of how PCOS happens as they are unable to pinpoint an exact cause (after all, our bodies and lifestyles are different). What doctors have narrowed it down to are three different factors –

Genetics: If you have a family history of irregular periods or diabetes, you have a higher chance of being affected by PCOS. However, don’t be fooled, it is not just hereditary on your mother’s side – you can get it from your father’s side of the family too.

Insulin resistance: The hormone that helps your boy convert food into energy is insulin. When your body stops being able to respond to insulin, your blood sugar levels can rise and your body might produce more insulin to try to make up for the failure. However, an increase in insulin can then lead to an increase in androgen.

High levels of androgens: Androgen is known as a male hormone. It is the group of sex hormones that give men their ‘male’ characteristics (testosterone is an androgen). All women make small amounts of androgen but women with PCOS will find that they have more androgens than estrogens (the sex hormones that give women our ‘female’ characteristics).

 

 

How do I know if I have PCOS?

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It's a huge shame how much the mood/mental health side of PCOS is overlooked. 79% of women with PCOS have either anxiety or depression. And then you just have the day to day mental struggles of dealing with low energy, poor sleep, hair growth, hair loss, acne, weight gain, fertility troubles – anyone would mentally struggle with that. – This is why a strong, caring and positive support system is so important. You just need someone to talk to, to listen, to pay attention, to give some positive words when you need them most. – I'm sure living with PCOS can be physically draining and painful but, I'm also sure that it can be just as mentally draining and emotionally painful. – – – – #healthyPCOS #PCOSdiet #pcos #loseweight #pcosdiet #pcosweightloss #pcosawareness #drewbairdfitness #pcosweightlossjourney #PCOSfitness

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There is no test specifically for PCOS. This is probably why, even with all of the symptoms of PCOS, women can go YEARS without receiving a proper diagnosis. Because of this, doctors tend to take more than just your symptoms into account. They will look at your family history as well as run multiple different (but not PCOS specific tests). The symptoms to look out for (but don’t always manifest) are:

 

  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Excessive hair growth (this is a telltale sign, as it affects up to 70 per cent of women with PCOS)
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Weight gain
  •  Oily skin/Acne on the face, chest, and back
  • Infertility
  • Enlarged clitoris (this is a very rare symptom)

 

You won’t see all symptoms appear – whether or not you have PCOS is rarely that clear. These symptoms manifest in our teenage years (around the time our bodies start to go through hormonal changes) but can also develop later on. It is important to know what to look out for and to track these changes in our bodies to be able to get a more accurate diagnosis.

 

 

Is PCOS serious?

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#PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. – Women who are diagnosed with PCOS can have it in all different types of severities. They can range from obesity, hair loss, excessive facial hair growth, insulin resistance, ovarian cysts, and infertility (and the list goes on.) – For me, the PCOS diagnosis I received was in 2017 shortly after I finished chemotherapy. They found cysts on my ovaries, and breasts. I also have “pre-diabetic” A1C levels and insulin resistance. – It actually amazes me how many people are unaware of this chronic illness (I mean, I had no idea of it until I was diagnosed) it has even taken me a few years to understand the disease and figure out what is best for MY symptoms. Any woman who has PCOS can have different symptoms from the others. – Just a little #invisibleIllness info for ya! – #LifeAfterLymphoma #ChronicIllness #Remission #Educate #KnowledgeIsPower #Healing #PCOS #insulinresistance #EpsteinBarrVirus #OvarianCysts #Awareness

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Any form of imbalance in our lives (health or otherwise) can be dangerous. PCOS is different for every woman that goes through it. It can be barely noticeable in some, while others find that they have to juggle a few symptoms at once. Unfortunately, PCOS is still being researched but of what is known so far, it seems as if PCOS – if left untreated – can lead to more severe issues like:

 

  • Diabetes: Of the known number of women with PCOS, 10–20% of women go on to develop diabetes. This risk is higher for women over the age of 40 and those with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30.
  • High blood pressure: Women with PCOS caused by insulin resistance will also have a higher chance of experiencing hypertension. This can then lead to cardiovascular disease.
  • Depression and anxiety: Because of the fluctuations of hormones, the likelihood of women with PCOS to fall into depression is higher. Not only that, as a result of some of the more physical symptoms (increased hair growth, acne), women with PCOS can experience a decrease in self-esteem.
  • Cancer: There is no research suggesting that PCOS increases the risk of breast, cervical or ovarian cancer. However, PCOS can cause the lining of our wombs to grow abnormally thick, which may lead to endometrial cancer.

 

 

Do I need treatment for PCOS?

 

While PCOS should definitely not be seen as a death sentence, it is not something to take lightly either. If some of the abovementioned symptoms check out – don’t stress. While there is no cure, there are tonnes of ways to reduce your symptoms and avoid long-term complications so you can live a life that is not burdened by your diagnosis. Here are some of the tests that doctors may run:

A physical exam (to look for physical symptoms)
A pelvic exam and ultrasound (to check for cysts)
Blood tests (to measure your androgen, insulin and cholesterol levels)

 

And as for treatments, there are a few options that doctors may recommend:

 

  • Birth control: Contraceptives work to restore your hormones back to its normal levels, reduce acne, protect against endometrial cancer and regulate ovulation. As for the form of contraceptive, it seems that any type of contraceptive will work (be it the pill, patch, shot, vaginal ring, or IUD)
  • Metformin: While not recommended by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for PCOS, Metformin is used to treat type 2 diabetes. Because of this, it can help treat PCOS by lowering insulin levels.
  • Surgery: This option is rare and not commonly used. To improve fertility and trigger ovulation, doctors may use a laser to burn away parts of or make tiny holes in the ovary. It’s known as Laparoscopic ovarian drilling and is an option if all else fails or for women who want to conceive. It is a small surgery and it’s likely that you can go back home the same day. Recovery can take any time from a few days to up to a month.

 

However, it is always recommended that you check in with your doctor before starting any form of treatment. That being said, there are options for managing PCOS from home. The first step (even before looking towards medication and way before surgery) is through managing your diet. Healthy eating habits and regular exercise can help relieve PCOS-related symptoms. In addition, losing just 5 to 10 per cent of your body weight can help regulate your menstrual cycle and improve PCOS symptoms. Long term, this can also improve cholesterol levels, lower insulin, and reduce heart disease and diabetes risks.

 

 

PCOS is not something that can be prevented but you are not alone in this. In fact, many celebrities have been open about their own struggles living with PCOS. If you suspect that you may be experiencing symptoms, head to a trusted doctor and get yourself started sooner, rather than later!

 

 

*Cover image credit:
Uterus: Photo by Victoria Stevens/ W Magazine
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