Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a condition in which a woman’s levels of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone are out of balance.
This leads to the growth of ovarian cysts (benign masses on the ovaries).
PCOS can cause problems with a women’s menstrual cycle, fertility, cardiac function, and appearance.
According to Dr. Rose Gitonga, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine system disorder among women of reproductive age.
“Women with PCOS may have enlarged ovaries that contain small collections of fluid called follicles located in each ovary as seen during an ultrasound exam.” She said.
Rose said infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excess hair growth, acne, and obesity can all occur in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
However, in adolescents, infrequent or absent menstruation may raise suspicion for the condition.
While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, Rose believe that hormonal imbalances and genetics play a role.
“Women are more likely to develop PCOS if their mother or sister also has the condition. Overproduction of the hormone androgen may be another contributing factor.
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Androgen is a male sex hormone that women’s bodies also produce. Women with PCOS often produce higher-than-normal levels of androgen. This can affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation. Excess insulin may cause high androgen levels.” She said.
Symptoms of PCOS typically start soon after a woman begins to menstruate.
However the type and severity of symptoms varies from person to person and the most common characteristic of PCOS is irregular menstrual periods.
“This condition may cause women to develop certain male characteristics because PCOS is marked by a decrease in female sex hormones which include excess hair on the face, chest, stomach, thumbs, or toes, decrease in breast size, deeper voice or thin hair” Rose said.
“Many women with PCOS have other concurrent health problems, such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. These are linked to the weight gain typical in PCOS patients.” She added.
According to Rose, women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, anxiety and depression, sleep apnea (when a person stops breathing periodically during sleep), endometrial cancer (cancer caused by thickening of the lining of the uterus), heart attack, diabetes or breast cancer.
“If you become pregnant, you may be referred to a specialist who specializes in high-risk pregnancies. Women with PCOS have a higher rate of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, and premature delivery. They may need extra monitoring during pregnancy.” She advised.
“The earlier your PCOS is diagnosed and treated, the lower your risk of developing these complications. Avoiding tobacco products and participating in regular exercise can also reduce your risk of some of these.” She added.
Treatment for PCOS is not curative.
According to Rose, treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and managing the condition to prevent complications.
It will therefore vary from woman to woman, depending on specific symptoms.
“A healthy diet and regular exercise is recommended for all women with PCOS, particularly those who are overweight. This can help to regulate your menstrual cycle and lower your blood glucose levels.” She said.
Women who don’t want to become pregnant may be prescribed birth control pills. These can help treat acne, regulate the menstrual cycle, and lower levels of male hormones, such as testosterone, in the body.
“If a woman with PCOS is suffering from infertility, fertility drugs may be administered to aid in ovulation.” She added.
However, diabetes medications may also be prescribed to lower blood glucose and testosterone levels.
Surgery may be recommended for some women with PCOS.
Ovarian drilling is a procedure in which the doctor punctures the ovary with a small needle that carries an electric current, in order to destroy part of the ovary.
This is a short-term solution that can promote ovulation and reduce male hormone levels.