What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common problem thought to affect as many as 1 in 10 women, Patient UK estimates.
The condition is defined by the growth of small cysts around the ovaries. These are egg-containing follicles, which did not develop properly and therefore did not release their eggs. So a typical symptom of PCOS is that the patient does not ovulate. Hormone imbalance, especially an increased level of testosterone, is also associated with the illness.
What causes it?
The exact cause of PCOS is unclear, but certain factors are known to trigger the syndrome, according to the NHS. These include:
- Resistance to insulin – Insulin is produced by the pancreas to control the amount of sugar in the blood. A resistance to it makes the body produce more and more, which in turn causes the ovaries to make too much testosterone. This male hormone prevents the follicles from developing properly.
- Weight – Excess weight causes the body to produce more insulin and makes symptoms more severe.
- Hormone problems – Women suffering from PCOS normally experience some form of hormonal imbalance. This may come in the form of excess testosterone, prolactin or luteinising hormone (produced by the pituitary gland to stimulate ovulation), reduced levels of follicle-stimulating hormone, progesterone or an abnormally functioning thyroid.
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Having light or irregular periods, or none at all
- Fertility problems
- Hair loss or excess growth
- Depression and mood swings
- Weight gain
In the long run, PCOS can cause blood sugar-related illnesses such as diabetes, as well as high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease and endometrial cancer (cancer in the lining of the womb).
How is it treated?
There is no cure for PCOS, but effective treatments are available, including:
- Hormone treatment – this can reduce the amount of testoterone the body produces and therefore minimise ‘masculine’ symptoms such as excess hair growth
- There is a large variety of drugs that can be used to treat diabetes
- Taking the contraceptive pill can help women who get infrequent or no periods have regular bleeds
- Fertility drugs can help stimulate the ovaries if the patient is trying to conceive
- A surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling, whereby a small telescope is passed into the abdomen through a small cut enabling the doctor to examine the ovaries and treat them using heat or laser
Losing weight and leading a healthier lifestyle also go a long way in reducing symptoms.
One celebrity who suffers from PCOS is US TV fitness trainer Jillian Michaels.
Images: Wikimedia Commons