September is…Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Awareness Month
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects 1 in 5 women in the UK and is one of the biggest causes of infertility. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it does often run in families and it’s associated with abnormal hormone levels in the body, irregular periods and fluid-filled sacs (follicles) surrounding the eggs in the ovaries.
Sadly, there is also no cure for PCOS. However, the symptoms can be treated and women are encouraged to follow a healthy and balanced diet in order to ease their symptoms. If not properly managed, PCOS can lead to long term health conditions later in life such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease – so maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential.
Signs and symptoms usually tend to occur in late teens or early 20s and include:
• Irregular or no periods – Over 50% of women with irregular periods have PCOS. If you have periods less frequently than every 35 days or have more than 5 weeks between periods it is likely you have PCOS.
• Reduced fertility – It is very common for women with PCOS to only be diagnosed when they are trying to conceive. However, there are a number of treatments available such as fertility medication and laparoscopic ovarian drilling, to help ovulation.
• Weight gain – Women with PCOS tend to be overweight, whether this is due to a rapid increase or struggling to lose weight. PCOS makes it more difficult for the body to use its insulin making it difficult to convert sugars and starches from foods into energy.
• Excessive hair growth – Due to a higher level of testosterone in the female body, bodily and facial hair growth is increased with the hair usually being thick and dark.
• Hair loss and thinning hair from the head – Hair on the head is thinner and more fragile than usual. A higher level of the hormone called Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) binds the hair follicles, making them go into their resting phase sooner than they should leading to the increased hair loss.
• Skin problems – Skin is more oily and prone to acne which can affect even adults, and can be found on the face, chest and back.
Professor Adam Balen, Chairman of the British Fertility Society and Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Leeds NHS Centre for Reproductive Medicine, comments:
“Polycystic ovary syndrome is the commonest hormonal disturbance to affect women. The main problems that women with PCOS experience are menstrual cycle disturbances, such as irregular or absent periods, infertility and skin problems including acne and unwanted hair growth on the face or body.
“The symptoms of PCOS vary from woman to woman. Some women have very few mild symptoms, while others are affected more severely by a wider range of symptoms.
“Many women with PCOS successfully manage their symptoms and long-term health risks without medical intervention. They do this by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Medication may be beneficial in order to help regulate the menstrual cycle, combat the skin and hair problems and also in order to stimulate regular ovulation for those with fertility problems. It is important that you seek the help of an experienced specialist in reproductive medicine.”