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What is PCOS & How is it Treated?

Cartoon female doctor holding a medical device

It is estimated that about 1 in 10 women of childbearing age have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, also known as PCOS. PCOS can happen at any age after puberty and is one of the most common causes of infertility in women. This condition is also linked to various other health problems such as diabetes, depression, endometrial cancer, and so on. Awareness is very important because early detection and treatment for this condition can make a huge difference. 

September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Month - which helps to start conversations around this matter. But whatever month you are reading this article, we are wishing you well on your steps towards a healthier you. Please feel free to share this with anyone who would also benefit from this information.

In this article, we’re going to be talking about PCOS, its symptoms, its causes, how it's treated, and more. Let’s begin.

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What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is a health problem involving an imbalance of reproductive hormones. This condition affects the menstrual cycle and goes hand-in-hand with excess production of androgens, which can cause adverse physical changes. 

Additionally, due to this condition, the ovaries may develop more than the normal number of follicles in the ovary - causing the ovary to enlarge and the eggs to not release properly. This is why PCOS can cause issues with fertility.

What are the Symptoms of PCOS?

There are certain signs and symptoms that one can look out for when it comes to detecting PCOS. If you experience a majority of these signs, it’s advisable that you take the steps towards a definitive diagnosis:

  • Infrequent periods that are around or less than 9 times a year 
  • Prolonged menstrual cycles of around or more than 35 days between periods
  • Abnormally heavy periods
  • Difficulty conceiving
  • Excess facial and body hair 
  • Severe acne 
  • Male-pattern baldness
  • The above signs becoming more severe following weight-gain

What Causes PCOS?

The exact root cause of PCOS is still unknown but there have been studies in the medical field that have narrowed down to certain factors that make PCOS more likely to occur in an individual. These include:

Hereditary 

Although specific genes associated with the condition are yet to be identified, PCOS is known to run in families. Generally, if any relatives of yours have the condition (e.g. your mother, aunt, sister) then there is a greater likelihood that you will develop the condition as well. 

Insulin Resistance & Excess Insulin Production

When one’s cells become resistant to the action of insulin, this can lead to elevated blood sugar levels, causing an excess production of insulin. Insulin can mimic the action of a specific growth factor called IGF-1 and this causes an increase in androgen production - which leads to PCOS. 

Age, ethnicity, and genetics may play a role in whether a person develops insulin resistance or not - but along with these, there are other driving factors, such as too much belly fat, excess body weight, lack of exercise, smoking, and poor sleeping habits. 

Chronic Low-Grade Inflammation 

Chronic low-grade inflammation is linked to an increase in androgen production, leading to PCOS - as well as other extensive health issues. This condition is different from acute inflammation which is usually a necessary response to help the body heal injuries and fight infections. With chronic inflammation, however, the threat may have passed or there may not be a recent threat, yet the immune system stays engaged.

Chronic low-grade inflammation is characterized by a rise in immune system markers found in blood and tissue. Major causes of this type of inflammation include obesity, chronic stress, elevated blood sugar, lack of physical activity, and the consumption of inflammatory food. 

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Is PCOS Linked With Other Health Issues Aside From Fertility Problems?

1. Diabetes

More than 50% of people with PCOS will develop prediabetes or diabetes before the age of 40. Diabetes may not be caused by PCOS per se, but it’s important to note that insulin resistance, which leads to PCOS, is also a driving factor towards type 2 diabetes. This is why the detection of PCOS can be a valuable opportunity to discover and mitigate insulin resistance before it progresses into type 2 diabetes.

2. High Blood Pressure or Hypertension

It is found that persons with PCOS are more likely to experience high blood pressure compared with those without PCOS. This is because elevated androgens in women are linked to hypertension. Moreover, unhealthy lifestyle choices that are linked to the driving factors of PCOS (obesity, lack of exercise, chronic stress) can also play a role in bringing about hypertension. This health issue needs to be promptly addressed as it can lead to heart disease and stroke. 

3. Endometrial Cancer

Insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, and problems with ovulation are commonly seen in persons with PCOS. These factors also increase the risk of developing cancer of the endometrium which is the lining of the uterus. 

A blood sample is being collected from a patient suspected to have PCOS

How is PCOS Diagnosed?

PCOS can be conclusively diagnosed with blood tests and a pelvic ultrasound. Blood tests can confirm the elevated amounts of androgen in one’s system - a hallmark of PCOS. Using blood tests, doctors can also check for or rule out other conditions that are mistaken for PCOS such as thyroid disease. 

Meanwhile, a pelvic ultrasound or sonogram will be able to examine the ovaries for an increased follicle count which is seen in people with PCOS. It is also an opportunity to check any irregularities in the endometrium or lining of the uterus. 

How is PCOS Treated?

1. Lifestyle Changes

In some individuals, the symptoms and likelihood of developing health issues connected to PCOS are greatly reduced with deliberate lifestyle changes. A balanced diet and regular exercise that lead to a weight loss of at least 5% can show significant improvements. It’s advisable to continually work towards getting into a healthy BMI range. 

Managing stress is also key because chronic stress can lead to low-grade inflammation which increases the levels of androgen produced. Avoiding other disruptive habits like drinking and smoking is another helpful step to getting more hormonal balance and improving overall health.  

2. Medicine

Some of the medications commonly used to address PCOS symptoms include:

  • Hormonal birth control to regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce the effects of androgen (for women who do NOT want to get pregnant)

  • Clomifene to encourage the monthly release of an egg from the ovaries (for women who want to get pregnant)
  • Metformin to lower insulin and blood sugar levels which is common for women with PCOS

3. Surgery

Laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) is a minor surgical procedure for those having PCOS-related fertility problems that do not respond to medicine. In this procedure, a small incision is made so that a thin microscope called a laparoscope can pass through the abdomen. Then, the ovaries are surgically treated with heat or a laser to destroy androgen-producing tissues. This procedure can correct one’s hormonal imbalance and restore the proper functioning of the ovaries. 

How Do I Manage Irregular and/or Heavy Periods Due to PCOS?

One of the main concerns of people who have PCOS is that their periods can be irregular yet heavier than usual. Quality organic cotton reusable pads are a good option due to their advantage in terms of size, grip, and absorbency. The added dryness and comfort is also a welcome change for persons with PCOS. Moreover, because these pads are reusable, they’re always right there when you need them. From a health perspective, these pads are free of toxic carcinogens that are present in most disposable pads and tampons. 

If you’re curious about what pads we recommend for persons with PCOS, check out the Ultra Overnight and Super Ultra Overnight pads from our store!

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