Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (or PCOS for short) is a condition that effects between 12-18% of the female population. If you have PCOS, the disease affects your periods and your fertility. PCOS also increases your risk of a heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnoea, and depression. It is characterised by hormonal imbalances (usually a higher levels of androgens, a male hormones women also make) and enlarged, follicle/cyst covered ovaries.
While having follicles/cysts on your ovaries is a normal part of the monthly cycle (usually you might have 1-4 just before ovulation), PCOS sufferers have over 15. These follicles on your ovaries play an important part of ovulation; follicles form to release mature eggs. The release of the mature egg sends out progesterone which prompts the uterine lining to build up in preparation for a fertilized egg. If the egg isn’t fertilized, your period promptly arrives 10-14 days later. Well done body! However with PCOS, usually thanks to hormonal imbalances, many follicles form, but rarely release any mature eggs. Those follicles then sit there stagnant on your ovaries. Without ovulation more will form and fail to release eggs and this will keep going until eventually you ovulate or you find yourself at the Doctor with absent periods, enlarged ovaries and some of the symptoms I’m about to list.
The common symptoms of PCOS are:
- Irregular periods
- Excessive body and facial hair
- Heavy or light periods
- Abdominal pain
- Depression; and,
- Weight gain.
Diagnosis come from exhibiting at least one of these symptoms, and being sent for a full blood test that will assess your hormone levels, iron levels, etc. and for a pelvic ultrasound to see how many follicles are on your ovaries.
There are a few treatment options if you’re diagnosed with PCOS.
If you don’t mind being on the pill, the Doctor will probably prescribe you an oral contraceptive pill (OCP) that has progesterone in it. The synthetic progesterone will help regulate your period and also help to regulate your other hormones, and reduce the symptoms of PCOS. But here’s the catch, the pill only does this while you are on it, and your symptoms will return as soon as you are off it. (This happened to me!) So as long as you’re not planning to get pregnant, it will help, but it’s not a permanent fix for PCOS.
If you aren’t interested on being on the OCP and you are overweight, a diet and exercise program will be advised. Being overweight puts massive pressure on your body, liver, and endocrine system, which regulates all of your hormones. When your hormones are balanced your body will run the way it should. Sometimes just losing those kilos through a healthy diet and lifestyle regime will result in your body being able to function the way it should, and in some cases (like my sister’s) the PCOS and its symptoms can disappear completely.
PCOS can be a genetic disorder. So if you are like me and at a healthy weight and take care of yourself, and are hoping to have a baby, or just don’t want to be on the pill but want a regular period, treatment is tricky. You should see an OBGYN to discuss possible options like surgery or hormone replacement therapies to kick start ovulation. There are varying degrees of HRT and all come with various side effects, and talking it over with your OBGYN will be your best way of assessing the right option for you.
I am 28, a healthy weight, don’t smoke, exercise regularly and was on the OCP for 10 years. I came off the pill about six months ago and started feeling depressed, bloated, started getting pimples, and my periods disappeared. About a month ago I got diagnosed with PCOS, having over 30 follicles on each ovary. I went straight to a naturopath until I could get into see my OBGYN. I recommend to every woman who is diagnosed or think they might be, to see their Doctor and a Naturopath. I have managed to get my symptoms under control with a mix of Chinese herbs, a daily probiotic and dietary changes that my Doctor and Naturopath advised me and I am feeling substantially better!
So even if you only have one symptom of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome it is worth a visit to your Doctor to get a check-up and a referral for an ultrasound of your ovaries. Your health is the most important thing and left untreated PCOS can really affect your physical and emotional wellbeing. Listen to your body and look after yourself, and your ovaries will thank you.