Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (abbreviated PCOS) is a condition that affects women when the hormonal levels are unbalanced. This is a common health problem that affects at least one in ten women in their childbearing years. Since this syndrome is linked to the hormonal system, it affects a woman’s reproductive health. The imbalance also causes problems to arise in the ovaries.
A woman’s ovaries constitute the part of the reproductive system that is tasked with the release of the eggs monthly, making up part of the menstrual cycle. When one suffers from PCOS, the process of egg development and release does not progress normally. This interferes with menstrual periods. Additionally, the condition may also cause the development of cysts. These are tiny sacs filled with fluids and found in the ovaries. While the cysts in themselves are not fatal, they are one of the reasons why the ovaries are unable to release eggs normally.
The precise cause of PCOS is still under research, but it is thought that high levels of the male hormones in the female body contribute to this. When the female body has a higher than normal concentration of male hormones, it is thought to interfere with the process of ovulation. Secondly, a high concentration of insulin has also been linked to PCOS.
Many women who suffer from this condition have been found to exhibit insulin resistance, particularly in cases where there is obesity. Additionally, PCOS has been linked to other health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, increased cholesterol levels as well as depression and anxiety. For this reason, it is important to look out for the telltale signs that indicate you may have PCOS. Below are five of the top signs to watch out for.
1. Your Menstrual Cycle is Irregular:
One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is an irregular period. If you cannot tell the days of your cycle, or when you had your last period, this is a key indication that you may be suffering from PCOS. Part of the reason for this is that PCOS has been linked to high levels of the male hormones, collectively referred to as androgens.
These androgens interfere with the process of ovulation, effectively disrupting your menstrual cycle. Research also indicates that women who suffer from PCOS have ovaries that do not produce adequate amounts of progesterone. Progesterone is one of the two main female hormones (the other is oestrogen) required for a normal menstrual cycle.
When these two factors are combined, an affected woman ends up with irregular periods, or none at all. As a general guideline, having fewer than nine periods annually, or a duration of more than 35 days between periods may be an indication of PCOS, for which medical attention is required.
2. You Struggle with Infertility:
In close relation to irregular menstrual flow, another telltale sign of PCOS is infertility. In fact, studies show that PCOS is the leading cause of ovulatory infertility. Consequently, women with PCOS have great struggles conceiving. With irregular periods, and sporadic ovulation, it is clear why infertility is one of the key signs of this condition.
Add to this the body’s inability to produce enough progesterone required to complete a cycle and it explains why women with PCOS cannot get pregnant. Another side effect of this condition is that it causes the underdeveloped eggs to accumulate in the ovaries and form cysts.
The cysts then interfere with the transportation of viable eggs to the fallopian tubes and down to the uterus to allow for successful fertilization and implantation. This cascade of events simply means that if you are struggling with getting pregnant, it is advisable to get medical attention for proper diagnosis of PCOS.
3. You are Growing Hair in Unexpected Parts of the Body:
If you have the random hair on your chin, then there is nothing to really worry about. But if you are starting to experience lots of hair in unexpected places such as your upper lip or chin, then you need to have it checked. Some women will even develop sideburns.
The medical name for this condition is hirsutism – the excessive growth of hair. It occurs as a result of high concentrations of testosterone, which is the male hormone associated with masculine features. Other places where this hair may develop include the chest, lower abdomen, back, fingers and toes.
As a general guide, any time you develop hair on parts of the body where a woman is not expected to have hair, there is a high chance that you could be suffering from PCOS – get medical attention.
4. You are Diabetic (Type-2 Diabetes):
While studies are still ongoing to discover the precise cause why insulin resistance places women at greater risk of PCOS, a growing body of research shows that insulin resistance triggers an increase in the blood glucose concentration.
This simply means that the body is unable to use the glucose well as a result of the imbalance. This in turn, has been shown to increase testosterone production which is at the core of most of the symptoms experienced by someone with PCOS.
Insulin resistance may have a couple of symptoms that are hard to tell apart, but these are considered a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. This form of diabetes presents an array of symptoms such as blurred vision, increased need to pee, persistent thirst, inexplicable fatigue as well as wounds that take a long time to heal. Some people will also experience frequent infections. If you notice these symptoms, alongside any combination of the ones mentioned above, it could be a tell-tale sign that you suffer from PCOS.
5. You Cannot Seem to Get Rid of the Acne:
Acne is thought to be a preserve of those terrible teen years, but did you know frequent breakouts could be a pointer that you might have PCOS? An increase in the body’s hormones in circulation is to blame for acne breakout on the skin during teenage hood.
Needless to say, this is the same explanation for the excessive hormones caused by PCOS. In extreme cases, affected women may also develop skin tags which may cause the formation of smelly bumps that develop in places where the skin folds such as below the breast, in the armpits as well as around the groin area.
These are the main symptoms of PCOS that you need to look out for. It is important to note that the symptoms may occur alone, or in combination. Additional symptoms include sudden increase in weight (particularly in the upper body), sleep apnea that is characterized by abnormal breathing as well as the loss of hair attributed to excessive production of male hormones in the body.
The good news is that the condition can be treated. Since at the core of PCOS is hormonal imbalance, a healthy lifestyle goes a long way in curing the condition. For this to happen however, proper diagnosis is key.