Awareness of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is still relatively low, but this condition is thought to affect at least 1 in 5 women in the UK. As with many conditions that affect fertility, a lot of women will not be diagnosed with PCOS until they find they are having difficulties trying to conceive, especially if their symptoms are mild. In this scenario, education about the syndrome is key for early diagnosis and treatment.
What are Polycystic Ovaries?
Polycystic ovaries become enlarged and develop fluid-filled bubbles just below the surface, and contain eggs that have not fully developed. Most women with polycystic ovaries will not have any problems other than irregular periods. To be diagnosed with PCOS you must have polycystic ovaries, and also be experiencing one or more symptoms from the list below:
Unwanted facial/body hair (hirsutism)
Thinning hair/hair loss
What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a name given to a group of problems. In order to have PCOS you should have two of the following three – polycystic ovaries, an irregular menstrual cycle or an excess of male hormone. The symptoms of PCOS can vary greatly between women and include all of the symptoms listed above.
What causes PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome is associated with hormonal imbalances in the body, although the exact cause is unknown. It’s likely that there is a genetic link, as it tends to run in families (but not always). PCOS women will have higher than normal levels Insulin, which helps to control the level of sugar in the blood. PCOS women will be more likely to be resistant to Insulin, so the body produces high amounts of it to overcome this resistance. The high Insulin levels then lead to other hormone problems including high LH and Testosterone. Typically considered a male hormone, all women produce a small amount of Testosterone in their ovaries, but the majority of it is usually converted to Oestrogen. For women with PCOS, the amount of Testosterone produced tends to be higher and this rise in Testosterone can affect menstruation and ovulation.
What are the common signs and symptoms of PCOS?
Irregular periods – ovaries do not as regularly release eggs (the process of ovulation)
Higher levels of androgen (male hormones) – this may result in physical signs such as excess facial and/or body hair
Polycystic Ovaries – ovaries are enlarged and eggs are surrounded by fluid-filled sacs
Weight gain- can affect metabolism
How is PCOS treated?
There is no cure for PCOS, but you can manage the symptoms of PCOS. You and your doctor will work on a treatment plan based on your symptoms, your plans for having children, and your risk of long-term health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Many women will need a combination of treatments.
If you have had a diagnosis of PCO or PCOS then the most important thing is not to worry. Although PCOS cannot be “cured’ most of the symptoms can be helped.
The first of the suggested treatment plans is usually lifestyle changes, especially if you are carrying excess weight. Excess fat in the body causes an increase in Insulin production, which can worsen the symptoms of PCOS. Therefore, losing weight can lead to a significant improvement in quality of life. While maintaining a healthy weight may not completely treat your symptoms, it can certainly be beneficial to your overall health and PCOS treatment.
There are also medical interventions available to treat PCOS, depending on your specific symptoms and your views on how you would like to be treated. No two PCOS women are alike.
Additional treatments include alternative therapies such as acupuncture. Many patients who have irregular cycles with their PCOS have worked with acupuncture practitioners to regulate their cycles. It may not be a treatment for everyone, but is another option that can be explored for treatment.
Here at Highgate Private Hospital, we have London’s leading Consultant Gynaecologists who will assess your individual symptoms and concerns and undertake any diagnostic tests needed to get to the bottom of what is causing the issue. An individual treatment plan will be tailored and agreed with you