PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) is a hormonal disorder that affects 10 – 15 percent of women in their reproductive age. While it is more common in women in their reproductive age, this condition can occur at any time of a woman’s life.
Effects of PCOS:
Polycystic ovarian Syndrome is due to hormonal imbalance when there is an increase in the production of androgen in the woman’s body. Normally, women normally do produce small amounts of androgen but with PCOS, the androgen hormone is produced in excess. It generally shows up when the child is around puberty, resulting in menstrual abnormalities. If it develops during adulthood, it could lead to infertility, obesity, reduced or absence of periods, and excessive sex hormone levels. And finally, PCOS after midlife results in Metabolic Syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that combine together, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels. This is why it is extremely vital to diagnose the early stage of PCOS, in order to control the condition before it flares up.
Symptoms of PCOS:
Since the symptoms of PCOS are so varied, there are no unusual symptoms of PCOS. Some of the main symptoms of PCOS in females are as follows:
- Irregular or absence of periods
- Excessive Male sex hormones resulting in excessive facial and body hair [ hirsutism ] or acne
The varied presenting features of PCOS make it particularly difficult to diagnose it. Most women consult different doctors for different symptoms and are unable to put the pieces together for a PCOS diagnosis. For instance, PCOS causes acne, menstrual irregularities, and obesity. When this happens, women tend to consult dermatologists, gynecologists, or dieticians respectively. Furthermore, if occurred during puberty, doctors usually undermine the condition since acne, weight gain and menstrual irregularities are very common in puberty. This is the reason why up to 50% of PCOS cases go undiagnosed due to the different types of symptoms of PCOS in females.
First signs of PCOS:
Researchers have observed that an early PCOS diagnosis can control the effects of the condition and even restore fertility. It can further reduce the chances of PCOS related risks like heart disease, endometrial cancer, or diabetes. This can be very helpful since there is no single permanent treatment or cure for PCOS. Keeping the importance of early diagnosis in mind, we have put together the first signs and warnings of mild PCOS:
1. Irregular and unpredictable menstruation:
A normal menstrual cycle usually ranges between 25-32 days and a majority of women have a 28-29 day cycle. If the menstrual cycle length lasts more than 35 days, it could be a sign of menstrual abnormality. Persistence of irregular or unpredictable periods (Oligomenorrhea) beyond 2 years of menarche can be the first sign of PCOS. Some women also experience excessive menstrual bleeding (Menorrhagia). All these irregularities occur due to a lack of progesterone in the absence of ovulation.
2. Excessive face and body hair and thinning of hair on the head:
Since one of the main symptoms of PCOS in females is an increase in androgen levels (male hormones), women experience hair growth in unwanted or unusual places like face, chin, chest, around the nipples, on the abdomen, and on toes and thumbs. This condition, with thick, pigmented body and facial hair, is called Hirsutism. Increased androgen levels also result in acne on the face and body, and as well as male pattern hair loss. Hair thinning due to excessive male hormones (androgen) is called androgenic alopecia.
3. Weight gain and insulin resistance:
While it is not determined that obesity causes PCOS, weight gain can worsen the condition. About 50% of women who suffer from PCOS are obese. The connection between PCOS and weight gain is the body’s inability to use insulin properly. With regard to this, there is also a genetic connection between PCOS and diabetes. Women with PCOS are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, especially if they have a first-degree relative with diabetes. However, it is to be noted that PCOS also affects women who are thin.
4. Anxiety and depression:
Weight gain, body, and facial hair, along with hair loss can lead to poor body image resulting in women having PCOS leading to mood swings like depression, anxiety and even eating disorders. According to a study analysis of 6 different studies of women of different ethnicities, women with PCOS are three times more likely to develop depression and anxiety due to the PCOS related body changes.
5. Irregular sleep patterns or trouble sleeping:
Fatigue and tiredness may seem like unusual symptoms of PCOS but are, in fact, common signs of PCOS. Recent studies have shown an unexpected connection between sleep and PCOS. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome are more likely to develop sleep apnea, which is a condition where a person may stop breathing for short intervals during sleep. A new study has also claimed that PCOS may cause lower lung capacity in a few women which results in shortness of breath.
While PCOS is not many times completely treatable, it is extremely controllable and an early PCOS diagnosis will prevent you from years of physical and mental trauma. If left untreated, polycystic ovary syndrome can lead to serious ailments like diabetes, endometrial cancer, endometrial hyperplasia, and cardiovascular diseases. If you or your relatives or friends show any of the above symptoms, consult a doctor immediately.
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