What is PCOS?
Women with PCOS basically have a hormonal imbalance and metabolism problems that may affect their overall health and even appearance and body shape. PCOS is also a common (but treatable!) cause of infertility.
PCOS is a problem with hormones that affects somewhere between 2 and 27% of women during their fertile years. Yes, this window is pretty wide – because many women have PCOS but don’t know it, so the jury is still out on just how common this condition is! In one study, up to 70% of women with PCOS hadn’t yet been diagnosed.
Symptoms OF Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- Irregular periods or even no periods at all
- Difficulty getting pregnant
- Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, and back.
- Weight gain – or difficulty losing weight even when you seem to be doing everything right.
- Fat distribution more around the torso than around the hips and legs (apple shape rather than pear or hourglass shape)
- Thinning hair and hair loss
- Overly oily skin often provoking acne
It’s worth mentioning that not all women with PCOS have every single symptom, and that each symptom can vary from mild to severe.
Potential Fertility problems from PCOS
PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility. In fact, many women only discover they have PCOS when they’re trying to get pregnant and are having difficulties. This is because women with PCOS often fail to ovulate, which means they have irregular or absent periods.
PCOS also affects the reproductive organs that produce the hormones key to the menstrual cycle – oestrogen and progesterone. Healthy ovaries produce one cyst a month, which allows just one (and occasionally two!) of the eggs to be released into the uterus. It’s also normal to produce a small amount of male hormones (such as testosterone) called androgens.
However, if you have PCOS, instead of just one, many small, fluid-filled sacs grow inside the ovaries. The word “polycystic” means “many cysts.” These cysts are actually follicles that each contain an immature egg. But when there are multiple cysts that form at once, these eggs never mature enough to trigger ovulation.
This lack of ovulation causes oestrogen and progesterone levels to be lower than usual, while androgen (testosterone) levels are higher than usual. These extra male hormones disrupt the menstrual cycle, so women with PCOS get fewer periods than usual – as well as these often alarming and potentially harmful symptoms with weight gain and hair growth also mentioned above.
Risks in later life
Having PCOS can also increase your chances of developing other health problems in later life.
For example, women with PCOS are at increased risk of developing:
- Type 2 diabetes – because of the weight gain and fat distribution
- Depression and mood swings – because of the psychological impact of the symtoms
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol – which can lead to heart disease and stroke
- Sleep apnoea – also linked to the weight gain, this means interrupted breathing during sleep.
- Absent or very irregular periods for many years can even increase the risk of developing cancer of the womb lining (endometrial cancer). (But the chance of getting endometrial cancer is still very small, and can be further reduced by using treatments to regulate periods, such as the contraceptive pill or an intrauterine system (IUS)!)
Think you could have PCOS?
So you think you may have PCOS? Don’t worry too much – this is a common condition and treatments are getting more effective every year, as our knowledge of the female body improves. The best thing you can do is go to a doctor to be sure that this is what you have. You can find ways to improve your fertility and manage your weight and unwanted hair growth and loss.
Then, be sure to stay tuned for more content on PCOS that we have planned – including how to accept a diagnosis and how to manage your symptoms naturally.
You got this!
Do you think you have – or have already been diagnosed with – PCOS? We would love to hear from you! Let us know your story in the comments or get in touch if you’d like to share it in an article!