Hormone Diaries: What is PCOS?
Despite the fact that 10 percent of women around the world are living with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), it has long been a condition that’s rarely talked about due to the stigma around its symptoms and the long-term effects it can have on fertility and overall health. Experts say that up to 70 percent of women who are living with PCOS have never been formally diagnosed. However in recent years, we’ve been hearing more and more about this hormonal condition as celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Daisy Ridley, and Jillian Michaels have bravely come forward with stories about their own struggles with PCOS.
Instead of feeling embarrassed or ashamed about PCOS, women need to get informed so that we can recognize the signs and symptoms of the condition, treat it effectively, and support one another. Here is everything you need to know about polycystic ovary syndrome, how it’s diagnosed, what its affects are, and how it can be treated.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition that affects a woman’s ovaries caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones. The three main components of PCOS are irregular or skipped periods, the over production of the male hormone androgen which leads to physical symptoms, and polycystic ovaries in which the ovaries become enlarged and contain follicles that can stop eggs from maturing, interfering with ovulation.
Irregular, prolonged, or skipped periods is one of the biggest symptoms of PCOS. Because the condition interferes with ovulation, some patients may not shed their uterine lining at all, while others may have fewer periods and heavier bleeding.
The overproduction of androgen associated with PCOS can lead to physical symptoms such as male pattern baldness and hirsutism, which is an excess of hair on the body or face that is thought to affect up to 70 percent of all PCOS sufferers.
Skin problems such as acne, skin tags, excessive oil production, and the darkening of the skin around the neck, underarms, or groin are also common symptoms of PCOS. Other symptoms include weight gain or difficulty losing weight, low energy, sleep apnea, pelvic pain, headaches, depression, and anxiety.
Symptoms of PCOS tend to develop shortly after puberty but can also occur in the late teens or early adult years. Some symptoms may go unnoticed and some sufferers may even be symptomless, which can make the condition difficult to diagnose.
Fertility and Pregnancy Problems
Among the biggest issues caused by PCOS are long-term fertility problems. Because PCOS sufferers often do not ovulate regularly or at all, it can be difficult for them to conceive. PCOS is actually thought to be the leading cause of infertility among women of childbearing age.
Women with PCOS who are able to conceive tend to have a higher risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, and increased blood pressure during pregnancy, which can result in difficult or premature births.
PCOS can also lead to an increased risk of uterine cancer because the uterus is not shedding its lining every month as it should. Women suffering from PCOS are three times as likely to develop uterine cancer as women who ovulate on a regular monthly schedule.