Battling PCOS: everything women must know
We spoke to health experts to help you deal with the syndrome that affects one out of 10 women in India
Do you often feel low on energy or recently noticed extra body or facial hair? Are you overweight or your insulin or blood-sugar is usually high? It’s time you saw a doctor as you could be suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that affects girls in their teens and women in their reproductive age of 16-30 years. But worry not, as making some lifestyle changes can help you battle the disorder. “Every third patient entering the clinic today is suffering from PCOS. A lifestyle tweak can help you reverse the problems before they harm your body,” says Madhu Goel, gynaecologist, Saket City Hospital.
The cause of PCOS is usually unknown. Women suffering from PCOS have small cysts in their ovaries, which can persist even when one does not have PCOS. Cysts do not always mean you have PCOS.
Genetic origin: Know your family medical history well, as that can also play a role in the disease. “The cause of PCOS is not fully understood, but genetics may be a factor.
It seems to run in families, so your chance of having it is higher if women in your family have it, or have irregular periods or diabetes,” says Nupur Gupta, gynaecologist, Well Woman Clinic, Gurgaon.
Raised level of androgen (male hormone) can also be a cause. Luteinising hormone (LH) that stimulates ovulation tends to have an abnormal effect on the ovaries if produced more than the optimum level. Low level of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) that controls the testosterone level is counted as another cause. Raised level of prolactin can also cause PCOD in some. Malfunction of insulin
system: “Women with PCOS have insulin resistance. This means that their body cells are resistant to the effect of normal level of insulin. More insulin is then produced to keep the blood-sugar normal. This raised level in the bloodstream is thought to be the main reason why PCOS develops,” says Neena Bahl, gynaecologist, Fortis La Femme, Delhi.
The first symptom is menstrual disturbance, and it appears gradually. “Menstrual cycle may not be associated with ovulation and can result in heavy bleeding. Women can have irregular periods, light periods or no periods at all,” says Bahl.
A raised level of androgen can have its own after-effects. The symptoms include acne, excess hair growth and thinning of hair. One could also suffer from obesity, dandruff, darkening of skin, especially in skin folds of neck and armpits, mood swings, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. However, not all symptoms may be present, except irregular menstruation.
If you have any of these symptoms, visit a gynaecologist or endocrinologist. There is no specific test to rule out PCOS. “It is diagnosed through a physical examination, blood tests and ultrasound,” says Gupta.
Physical Exam: It includes blood pressure check and pelvic exam. The latter is important to find out if a woman has enlarged or abnormal ovaries. Physical exam also includes the check of thyroid glands, skin, hair, breasts and stomach.
Ultrasound: An ultrasound checks the ovaries and thickness of lining of uterus. If it shows enlarged ovaries and small cysts, you have to undergo treatment as they are symptoms of PCOS.
Other lab tests: The blood and hormonal examination also help rule out PCOS. It is important to check cholesterol and triglyceride levels, overactive or underactive thyroid glands and the levels of androgen, adrenal glands and prolactin.
Risk factors: Apart from infertility, it is also a silent killer as its long-term health effects can lead to serious ailments. You can also suffer from sleep apnoea, which is pauses in breathing or irregular breathing during sleep. “With PCOS, the risk of endometrial cancer and breast cancer also increases, so it very important to get the right treatment,” says Goel.
Sticking to a well-balanced, nutritional diet helps manage weight
Avoid late night binging and cut down on sugar intake