What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a common yet complex hormonal condition, which causes cysts to form on the ovaries, along with a range of other physical and mental symptoms. Those with PCOS usually experience irregular or no ovulation and often have high insulin levels and/or male sex hormones known as ‘androgens’. It is one of the leading causes of infertility, although it is estimated that around 70% of cases go undiagnosed.

PCOS can be diagnosed through hormone testing and ultrasound of the ovaries.

What causes PCOS?

There are a number of risk factors, including genetics and being overweight.

Insulin resistance is another risk factor and is present in around 80% of diagnosed PCOS cases. Insulin resistance causes the body to produce more insulin, which contributes to a rise in androgens (male hormones) such as testosterone in the body. It is a common condition in those who are overweight.

To reduce your risk of developing PCOS, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet and active lifestyle, and remain within a healthy weight range for your height.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Symptoms vary greatly from person to person. They often begin during puberty and can continue throughout the reproductive years. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Irregular periods or missing periods (amenorrhoea)
  • Acne on the face and body
  • Cysts on the ovaries (can be diagnosed with ultrasound)
  • Excessive hair growth on the face and/or body
  • Hair loss on the scalp
  • Weight gain, and inability to lose weight
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Infertility
  • Sleep apnoea

How to treat PCOS

Lifestyle changes can have a profound effect on PCOS. Consuming an abundance of fresh food, frequent exercise (at least 150 minutes per week) and maintaining a healthy weight or losing excess weight can help to control the condition. It is said that even a 5-10% weight loss can bring huge improvements to the mood and fertility issues associated with PCOS.

Other treatments available include hormone medication, such as the contraceptive pill, gonadotrophins or testosterone lowering drugs. Anti-depressants, weight-loss drugs or insulin sensitising drugs may also be used to treat PCOS.

There are also complementary treatments such as acupuncture, massage, reflexology and Chinese herbal medicine which can be effective in some cases. It’s best to work with your doctor to determine the best course of action to manage your symptoms.

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