Health & Fitness

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a condition that affects the way your ovaries work. It causes symptoms like menstrual
irregularity, acne, and hair growth, and it may put you at risk for health problems. In PCOS, your ovaries
produce a high level of hormones called androgens (male hormones). These cause problems with
ovulation. And they can cause a type of long-term, low-grade inflammation that can lead to heart
disease and other health problems.

Symptoms

PCOS symptoms often start during puberty, but can happen as early as the later teen years and even in
early adulthood. They can include irregular periods, excess facial and body hair (hirsutism), acne, or
weight gain.
A woman with PCOS may have enlarged ovaries that contain many fluid-filled sacs on the outer edge,
called cysts. These cysts can contain immature eggs, called follicles. Irregular or missed periods caused
by ovulation that don’t happen regularly are common signs of PCOS. Periods might be fewer than nine
per year, or they might occur more than 35 days apart. Higher-than-normal levels of androgens in your
blood are another symptom that’s related to PCOS. Androgens can cause unwanted hair growth on your
face and chest, called hirsutism, as well as acne. A high level of androgens can also lead to male-pattern
baldness.

Diagnosis

PCOS can be diagnosed when your GP sees symptoms of irregular menstrual periods, excess androgen,
weight gain, or enlarged ovaries (polycystic ovaries). The ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone
hormones to regulate the menstrual cycle and ovulation. During ovulation, the ovary releases an egg to
be fertilized by a man’s sperm. It does this by sending messages to the pituitary gland. Follicle-
stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone trigger the ovaries to create follicles — sacs that contain
eggs. Polycystic ovaries have many follicles that don’t mature and don’t trigger ovulation. This can affect
your ability to get pregnant.
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Treatment

PCOS is a health problem that affects one in 10 women of childbearing age. It causes a variety of
problems, including weight gain, infertility, and metabolic disease. Treatment depends on what’s
causing your symptoms. It can include lifestyle changes or medications.
Hormonal birth control — pills, a skin patch, vaginal ring, shots, or a hormonal IUD (intrauterine device) –
can help restore regular periods and lower your chance of getting endometrial cancer, in the inner lining
of the uterus. Orlistat (Alli, Xenical) can also help you lose weight and improve your cholesterol levels.
Hyperandrogenism, or increased male hormones, may be treated with drugs that block their production
or counteract their effects. Hair loss and acne may be treated with topical creams or antibiotics.
Medications to treat the symptoms of PCOS can be helpful, but a complete medical diagnosis is needed.
Diagnosis usually begins with a physical exam and a discussion of your history and symptoms. Blood
tests are sometimes used to check your hormone levels and look for other conditions that can mimic
PCOS.

Prevention

Aside from the usual dietary tweaks, there are a few preventative measures you can take to stave off
PCOS. These include a balanced diet rich in fruits, veggies, and lean proteins, regular exercise, and
avoiding processed foods. A balanced diet includes whole grains and a moderate amount of dairy
products while avoiding refined carbohydrates like sugar, flour, and starchy vegetables. Eating a lot of
fiber-rich foods also helps keep your gut healthy and your insulin levels in check.
The best way to keep PCOS at bay is to talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and the
dietary changes that will help. It’s important to choose an experienced doctor who understands the
condition and who can provide you with support and guidance as you try to manage your condition. It
can be a long and arduous journey, but if you stick with it, the rewards will be well worth your time. In
the end, you’ll enjoy a happier and healthier life.

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