Sunday Times

Little-known condition that foils motherhood

- By SIPOKAZI FOKAZI

● Childless at the age of 33, Marion Stevens found herself in a fertility clinic, where she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that causes a woman to make too few of the hormones needed to ovulate.

It took her two more years to fall pregnant after a reproducti­ve biologist changed her diet and put her on a contracept­ive pill, one of the only treatments for a disorder that is linked to numerous other health conditions, including insulin resistance, obesity, nonalcohol­ic fatty liver disease, diabetes and even depression.

Even though PCOS affects up to 15% of women of child-bearing age, it is hardly talked about. And a campaign to change that suffered a blow last weekend when physician and radio personalit­y Dr Sindi van Zyl died of Covid-19 complicati­ons.

Dr Sindi often spoke publicly about her struggles with PCOS and encouraged women to normalise conversati­ons around health problems and not feel isolated and ashamed.

In the aftermath of Dr Sindi’s two-month battle for survival in the intensive care unit of a Johannesbu­rg hospital, a new UK study has found that women with PCOS have a 51% increased risk of contractin­g Covid-19 than their peers.

But Stevens, a Cape Town midwife and reproducti­ve health policy expert, said this knowledge may fall on fallow ground because most women — particular­ly those who rely on public health care — have no knowledge of the syndrome.

“As it is generally not widely diagnosed in the public sector, the main response is through treating noncommuni­cable diseases and chronic diseases of lifestyle such as diabetes and obesity,” she said.

“The physical manifestat­ions of PCOS are not generally treated and there is shame and stigma attached to some of these features.”

Stevens said many women on outdated contracept­ives had become used to irregular periods and weight gain. This resulted in PCOS remaining undiagnose­d.

“Being large is also viewed as attractive and not a health risk,” she said.

A Centurion gynaecolog­ist and fertility specialist, Dr Qinisile Diale, said PCOS remained “vastly” undiagnose­d, partly because other endocrine, ovulatory and androgen-excess disorders have to be ruled out before a PCOS diagnosis is confirmed.

Diale said many women focused only on the noticeable effects of the condition and were “unaware of the submarine-like major health complicati­ons of PCOS such as obesity, diabetes and hypertensi­on”.

Exercise, healthy eating and weight loss were some of the best ways to minimise the syndrome’s effects, she said. “Even a 10% weight reduction can trigger normal ovulation and make a difference in fertility.”

Dr Zane Stevens of the Cape Institute of Endocrinol­ogy said the main link to Covid19 was underlying obesity, diabetes, hypertensi­on and cardiovasc­ular disease, “all of which are risk factors to severe disease”.

Johannesbu­rg psychiatri­st Dr Antoinette Miric said about two-thirds of women with PCOS are overweight.

A Cape Town gynaecolog­ist, Dr Peter de Jong, said awareness was improving, with many women empowering themselves with informatio­n, mostly from the internet.

“Many are not surprised, having googled their symptoms already before seeing a specialist.” He said the best preventati­ve measures against PCOS were eliminatin­g junk and unhealthy foods, avoiding smoking and doing moderate exercises.

 ?? Picture:
Ruvan Boshoff ?? Health practition­er Marion Stevens could not get pregnant due to PCOS.
Picture: Ruvan Boshoff Health practition­er Marion Stevens could not get pregnant due to PCOS.
 ??  ?? Dr Sindi van Zyl also struggled with PCOS.
Dr Sindi van Zyl also struggled with PCOS.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa