Everything You Need To Know About PCOS
Updated: Jun 14
Chances are you may not have heard of PCOS before, despite the fact that it affects 1 in 10 women worldwide; probably because around 70% of those with the condition are undiagnosed. PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, disturbes a woman’s hormonal balance; this imbalance leads to a lack of ovulation, and ovarian cysts. Cysts are sacs filled with fluid that happen in many parts of the body, which can be benign or cancerous, and painful upon bursting or becoming infected.
The female reproductive system is complex, with many moving parts, but for now let’s focus on the mechanisms and hormones specifically relating to PCOS. The main hormones that you should know about are:
Estrogen (responsible for “female” features, puberty, regulating the cycle and maintaining pregnancy, among others)
Progesterone (prepares uterus for pregnancy)
Androgens (male sex hormones, eg, testosterone)
Follicle-stimulating hormone (leads to growth of ovarian follicles - sacs containing eggs)
Luteinizing hormone (causes an egg to be released)
In PCOS, many follicles grow inside the ovaries, each one with an egg inside that never matures enough to be released. This lack of ovulation affects the levels of all hormones mentioned above, with androgens in particular being produced in excess. Although cysts can form from the follicles, they are not necessary for a diagnosis of PCOS. The cause of PCOS is as of yet unknown, although genes are believed to play a part, seeing as if your mother or sister have the condition you are more likely to as well.
PCOS can present itself through many different symptoms, but the three most common are a higher level of male hormones, an irregular cycle (usually with a prolonged lack of a period), and the formation of cysts. However, symptoms also include excess hair growth, acne, weight gain (80% with PCOS are overweight), male-pattern baldness, headaches, and infertility. Around 70% of people with the condition are insulin resistant, increasing the risk of diabetes II greatly.
In order to diagnose, a doctor will carry out a blood test to check hormone levels, specifically those of Follicle-Stimulating Hormone, Luteinizing Hormone, testosterone, progesterone and estrogen. This will be done alongside a pelvic ultrasound to check for cysts, the thickness of the uterine lining and the size of the ovaries - those with PCOS have 1.5 times to 3 times larger ovaries.
Treatment of PCOS is based off of the problems most affecting you, whether that be acne, infertility or an irregular cycle. These treatments may include hormonal birth control to regulate your cycle and help with unwanted hair growth. If one happens to be overweight, losing just 5% of their body weight can drastically ease symptoms. Estrogen can also be produced by fat cells, so gaining a lot of weight may aggravate the hormonal imbalance. Furthermore, avoiding starchy and sugary foods is also beneficial, since PCOS may lead to high blood sugar.
Ultimately, PCOS is a hormonal condition which many women around the world have. If you see yourself in the symptoms, it may not necessarily be PCOS, but you should still check in with your Gynecologist or Endocrinologist.