PCOS is short for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and is unfortunately much like Endometriosis in that it is very common amongst women and frequently goes undiagnosed for long periods of time because symptoms are often attributed to other causes. PCOS can develop any time from puberty onwards, sometimes only developing in early adulthood.
Awareness around this condition is important in being able to identify symptoms, irregularities and seeking medical advice sooner rather than later. Although the name implies the presence of “cysts”- this is actually misleading and something that experts have previously petitioned to have changed, in an effort to resolve confusion. Not every woman who has PCOS will experience the presence of cysts.
Although the precise cause of PCOS is largely unknown, it’s considered to be caused by a hormonal imbalance of three vital hormones: androgens, insulin and progesterone - with other lifestyle and genetic factors having some bearing too.
In PCOS sufferers, the body isn’t sufficiently responsive to insulin, leading to increased blood glucose levels and the subsequent production of even more insulin, which also results in the production of excessive androgens by the ovaries. It’s this excess of androgens that lead to many of the unpleasant PCOS symptoms. Low progesterone levels amongst sufferers are the cause of irregular menstrual cycles - another symptom.
Women's health is something that doesn't get talked about nearly as much as it should be, and PCOS is part of that rarely discussed group of conditions that hundreds of thousands of women suffer from every day in silence.
What Are The Symptoms Of PCOS?
Due to the fact that PCOS symptoms can vary widely from woman to woman, it can be hard to diagnose, and is often dismissed as “normal” period pain.
Many symptoms can suggest PCOS, including irregular periods (caused by the ovaries not releasing eggs regularly), polycystic ovaries (when the ovaries become enlarged, and the sacs fill with fluid), and an excessive level of androgen (male hormones) in the body. These can lead to such conditions as hirsutism (increased and unwanted hairiness), difficulty getting pregnant, weight gain, acne, thinning hair, fatigue, headaches, sleeping difficulties, and extreme period pain.
How Is PCOS Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, there is no single test that can diagnose PCOS, but there are a number of different ways that medical professionals can look into the specific symptoms and hormone levels. A background check on family and individual medical history, blood tests to ascertain blood sugar and hormone levels as well as a sonogram to evaluate the physical appearance of the ovaries are often involved.
What Treatments Are There For PCOS?
Although no “cure” exists at present, there are thankfully ways and means to decrease symptoms and improve overall physical and emotional health alongside the condition.
Medications are often used to resolve symptoms such as irregular periods, fertility issues and excess hair growth.
A healthy and nutritious diet with regular exercise is always recommended to PCOS sufferers. Being overweight can increase the insulin your body produces, which subsequently exacerbates PCOS and its associated symptoms.
It’s vital that we understand, respect and pay attention to our bodies and actively look into any irregularities, excessive pain or unpleasant symptoms. So often we attribute our body’s signs and symptoms to other elements in our lives like stress, anxiety and poor nutrition without seeking medical advice as soon as possible. We owe it to ourselves to take care of ourselves, ladies!
So if you’re in any doubt - book in to see your doctor for professional medical advice. It’s definitely better to tackle any concerns sooner rather than later.