Understanding PCOS Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Prevention and PCOS Vs PCOD.
HOW DOES PCOS AFFECT FERTILITY IN WOMEN?
The full form of PCOS is Polycystic ovary syndrome, PCOS – refers to a condition where a woman produces more than her normal count of male hormones, resulting in a hormonal imbalance in the body that can lead to several symptoms such as missed periods and cysts in the ovaries. The latter can translate into an inability to bear children and thus affect fertility adversely.
PCOS is a fairly common condition that affects women who are of childbearing age, that is, approximately between the ages of 16 and 45. About 10% to 12% of women in the reproductive age group are affected by PCOS. According to research, as many as 70% of women with PCOS aren’t aware of it. In other words, they have not been diagnosed yet, which makes regular tests critical for this demographic of the population.
Understanding Pregnancy and PCOS
A woman’s reproductive system features ductless reproductive glands called Ovaries. Female sex hormones – such as oestrogen – cause ovaries (via a series of actions and reactions) to release mature eggs. This act of releasing eggs by a woman’s ovaries is termed ‘ovulation’. The natural goal of ovulation is to have a male sperm cell fertilize the egg, thus giving birth to a new life.
When a woman has Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), several tiny sacs (also known as ‘follicles’), each carrying an ‘immature egg’, grow inside the ovaries. The word Polycystic literally means many or several cysts. These eggs are not designed to mature, and thus, are incapable of triggering ovulation. The absence of ovulation alters the delicate hormonal balance in a woman’s body, causing male hormones (we all have both kinds) to dominate, leading to PCOS and its symptoms.
Other factors considered to play a role in the production of excess levels of Androgen (male hormones) in the female body are genetics, resistance to insulin and inflammation.
Functionally, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) exerts its hormonal influence by via insulin resistance. This is more prominent in women who are overweight or obese (ie, have a High Body Mass Index, or BMI). The action of insulin on the liver causes a fall in the production of sex hormone binding globulin, and this, in turn, leads to an increased level of male hormone in the female body.
What are the Effects of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) on Fertility?
vulation is a necessary pre-requisite for pregnancy. Without mature eggs, the male sperm cell has nothing to fertilize, leading to a phase of sterility in a woman. Even in cases when ovulation does take place, the hormonal discrepancy can interfere with the proper development of the uterus lining, and thus prevent proper implantation of a mature egg. In this case too, the result is barren-ness, or infertility.
What are the Symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS Symptoms)?
As the levels of androgen and testosterone (male hormones) increase, and as the process of natural ovulation is disrupted, the female body undergoes several changes, which manifest themselves in a variety of symptoms. Sometimes, these symptoms are experienced during the first period. In other cases, PCOS is diagnosed only after the woman has taken tests after facing difficulty in becoming pregnant. While not everyone who has PCOS will show the same kinds of symptoms, there are some universal signs of this malady. Below is a list of the more common PCOS symptoms (apart from infertility, which has been discussed earlier):
(1) IRREGULAR PERIODS: When ovulation doesn’t happen, it prevents the uterine lining from shedding, which is necessary for menstruation.
(2) HEAVY PERIODS: When a woman has PCOS, the uterine lining will build up over a prolonged period. When the subsequent period arrives, therefore, the flow can be a lot more heavy than normal.
(3) HAIR GROWTH: With a surge in male hormones appear ‘male traits’ such as hair on the face, back, chest and belly. This condition, technically referred to as ‘Hirsutism’, is a fairly common condition in females with PCOS.
(4) OUTBREAKS & ACNES: Androgen, Testosterone and other male hormones have a tendency to make the skin oily, and this can lead to a breakout of acnes, pimples and blackheads on the face, upper back and chest.
(5) GAIN WEIGHT: Research tells us that nearly 80% of women who have a PCOS condition tend to be overweight or obese.
(6) MALE-LIKE BALDNESS: Women with PCOS have been known to exhibit male pattern baldness where hair density on the scalp gets progressively thinner, and ultimately falls out.
(7) SKIN DARKENING: PCOS can lead to the formation of dark spots and patches on various parts of the skin and creases of the body such as in the neck, groin and under the breasts.
(8) SKIN TAGS: As the levels of female hormones sink, skin tags have been known to appear in women with PCOS. Skin tags are essentially pain-less and non-cancerous growths that are joined to the skin via a thin stalk (technically referred to as a ‘peduncle’). Tags are common in areas where the skin folds, such as the armpits.
(9) HEADACHES: An imbalance in the hormonal composition in the body can lead to chronic headache in cases.
(10) OTHER COMPLICATIONS: PCOS brings with it other forms of ‘collateral damage’ as well. For instance, women suffering from PCOS have been known to carry higher-than-normal risks of diabetes and pre-diabetes (nearly half of women with PCOS end up with one of the two), heart ailments, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, Sleep Apnea, depression, low self-esteem and endometrial cancer.
(11) PREGNANCY RALATE COMPLEXITIES: In the case of a woman with PCOS becoming pregnant, she will carry a high risk of pregnancy related complications such as premature delivery, mis-carriage (sometimes on multiple occasions), high blood pressure during the period of pregnancy and gestational diabetes.
What is Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD)?
PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease) may be described as a milder form of PCOS. When a woman has a PCOD condition, hormonal imbalance will cause mature eggs in the ovaries to cluster or lump together (since they cannot be discharged), and they will turn into cysts over time. Apart from hormonal disturbances, stress and insulin diet can also bring on a PCOD condition.
What is the Difference Between PCOD and PCOS?
Technically, PCOD is not regarded as a disease. Perhaps the biggest difference between PCOD and PCOS is that a woman with PCOD may be able to ovulate normally, and may not have any significant fertility issues. PCOD is a condition that can be reversed with the right treatment and lifestyle changes. PCOS, on the other hand, is a more ‘serious’ condition, is more common in women, and usually experienced earlier on in life (as compared to PCOD).
What is the Treatment For Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
There are no official or obvious treatment for PCOS. A healthcare professional or doctor will make a diagnosis on the basis of several factors and crucial Tests. Some of the possible ‘treatments’ for PCOS can include:
A body check or physical examination.
Study of medical history.
Blood tests for checking levels of hormones, glucose, cholesterol, insulin & triglyceride.
There have been many recorded cases where women with infertility issues – including PCOS – becoming pregnant with the right professional advice and medical intervention. Some ways to ‘resume a normal life’ again, so to speak, if one is going through a PCOS phase, are:
Medications – these can be prescribed by a professional to bring menstrual rhythms in control and stimulate ovulation.
Surgery has been known to bear fruit in many cases. One of them is Laparoscopic Ovarian Drilling where small cuts are made in the abdomen and electric current is administered via a needle to destroy a small area of tissue that is responsible for testosterone production in the ovary. As the testosterone levels come down, the probabilities of conception and pregnancy rise.
Birth control pills (to stabilize the hormonal imbalance).
Administering insulin sensitizing drugs (so that the body regulates insulin better, leading to better management of male-hormone production).
Blood sugar medication (this is applicable in the case of diabetes or pre-diabetes).
Mindful diet (to bring down the body’s weight. In particular, a Low Glycemic diet – that is, one comprising foods that don’t cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels – has been known to boost changes of fertility).
Exercise (for general wellness).
Getting enough sleep.
Balancing home and work.
Socializing with friends
Spending quality time with family.
De-stress smartly and manage anger better.
When Must One See a Doctor or Professional For Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
Any woman who has been having trouble getting pregnant or has been experiencing any (or a combination of) the symptoms mentioned above should get herself checked for PCOS. While there can be several reasons for not being able to conceive (and not all of them are related to PCOS), getting one’s self diagnosed can certainly increase chances of fertility. At the very least, it can facilitate treatment by narrowing down the list of probable causes. And it’s not always a question of child birth. Getting professional help on PCOS can help one prevent other kinds of complications as well, and live a healthier and happier life.
PCOS & PCOD Tests
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