Polycystic ovary syndrome, which is also referred to as PCOS is one of the most common health problem within the female reproductive system. Polycystic ovaries are ovaries which have a more than average number of cysts or larger than usual cysts (see image). Consequently, the condition becomes polycystic ovary syndrome if you experience any of the other related symptoms such as an irregular menstrual cycle. Currently, an estimated 5 to 10 % of women between the reproductive ages of 18-40 years old are affected. If untreated this may eventually lead to infertility.
There are no known causes of PCOS but the National Health Service suggests that there are several issues that could lead to the potential development of PCOS.
- Genetically; the condition is thought to be inherent, which means that if any other female members in your family have PCOS, you are more likely to develop it.
- Resistance to the insulin hormone, which controls the levels of sugars in your blood. If you have developed a way to resist insulin, your body produces more insulin to compensate for this.
- Hormonal imbalance; which can cause the overproduction of testosterone. All women have some level of testosterone in their hormones, but having too much of this can affect the way your ovaries work and stop ovulation and periods.
- Being overweight or obese; the hormonal imbalance, as well as the insulin resistance can cause weight gain and make it difficult to shift this excess weight. Excess weight and obesity further impact on your ovaries ability to function as normal.
If you have experienced any of the following symptoms, you should see your GP about getting tested for PCOS. The tests usually consist of blood tests, ultrasounds and transvaginal scans.
- The most common symptom is irregular or no menstrual cycle for at least 6 months.
- Excess numbers of or larger cysts in the ovaries.
- Difficulties with conceiving due to the lack of ovulation and menstrual cycle.
- Oily skin and acne.
- Excessive facial and body hair.
- Hair thinning or hair loss from the scalp is usually caused by the increased levels of testosterones.
- The hormonal imbalance and the emotional impact of fertility issues can lead to mood changes and depression.
There are currently no cures for PCOS but health professionals do offer the following treatments to manage the symptoms of the condition.
- Hormone treatment and certain concentration such as the pill can be prescribed to block the testosterone hormones to control and continue periods.
- Diabetes medication can reduce insulin production and treat the hormonal imbalance.
- Creams such as Eflornithine to reduce the excessive facial and body hair growth.
- Fertility medication such as Clomifene and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) to improve your chances of conceiving.
- Surgery of the ovaries. This procedure is called laparoscopic ovarian drilling, whereby the surgeon burns off the tissue that’s producing the counter-productive hormones.
- For women with PCOS and a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or higher, losing weight will significantly improve your chances of regular periods, as well as reduce the overproduction of insulin and testosterones which cause the hormonal imbalance.