Polycystic ovarian syndrome is the most common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age. For many women the diagnosis comes years after noticing the first sign of symptoms, the main symptom being irregular menstrual cycles. Women tend to dismiss irregularity in their menstrual cycles citing reasons such as stress or poor nutrition. Although these maybe valid reasons, it is not always the case.
A closer look at PCOS:
PCOS is basically an imbalance of the hormones that control a woman’s menstrual cycles and ovulation. The main hormone involved is Luteinizing Hormone (LH), a peak in the level of this hormone is what initiates ovulation and menstrual cycle. An abnormally high level of this hormone is released in women with PCOS which stimulates the release of male hormones, in particular testosterone. It also disrupts the ratio maintained with another hormone Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which plays a key role in releasing the egg stored within the ovaries i.e. ovulation.
What it means:
The above mentioned hormone imbalances have the following consequences
- The disruption of the LH/FSH ratio results in failure of ovulation and hence failure of menstruation, making the cycles irregular. Chronic exposure to such imbalances may lead to infertility (PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women).
- The increased levels of male hormones result in symptoms such as acne, oily skin, male pattern of body hair, increased hair thinning and hair loss. Testosterone also plays a role in suppressing normal menstruation.
- Excessive weight gain, dark patches of skin on the neck, arms, thighs and cysts in the ovaries are also a result of the effects of PCOS.
Complications of PCOS:
The common PCOS symptoms are difficult enough for most women, but some will experience further complications such as:
- Diabetes, elevated insulin levels or insulin resistance
- Heart and blood vessel problems
- Uterine cancer
Each of these problems can be life threatening, which is why treatment for PCOS is so important.
PCOS has many modes of treatment depending on the individual and their symptoms. Where PCOS is associated with overweight or obesity, successful weight loss is the most effective method of restoring normal ovulation/menstruation. Infertility maybe a major concern but not all women with PCOS have difficulty becoming pregnant, for those that do appropriate medications are available and have good results. Once diagnosed with PCOS after a complete evaluation, your doctor will be able to guide you on the best line of treatment.
The way PCOS presents in a woman can vary, some cases can be more obvious than the others. Due to the diversity in symptoms, diagnosis can be a lengthy process, which is why awareness among women is the most helpful tool in early detection. The earlier the detection the more chances we have of avoiding any long term complications.