Aware of which health problem affects 1 out of every 10 women of childbearing age?
It is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, commonly called PCOS. The name may be a mouthful but there are some things about it that EVERY woman should know.
PCOS is the most common endocrine system disorder. If it has been awhile since biology class, the endocrine system is made up of the eight major glands in the body that produce hormones. Women with PCOS have a hormone imbalance. This imbalance can cause infertility, but it is treatable.
Most doctors will immediately recommend lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. Losing weight can really improve the symptoms. Medications are also a typically treatment for PCOS. Once again, it depends on the symptoms. If women are having an irregular period, birth control may be prescribed. If women are not ovulating, their doctor may prescribe anti-estrogen. Many people also use home remedies to manage symptoms.
With over 5 million women suffering from PCOS in the United States alone, there are some things women should be aware of. Here are 12 interesting facts about PCOS women should know:
12 There Is No Cure
Wait...there’s no magic pill?? Unfortunately, no. There is no one cure-all pill for PCOS. Treatment can involve many different things.
For one, diet. You must closely regulate what you eat to avoid insulin spikes. Second, exercise is also important in managing your PCOS symptoms and maintaining a healthy weight. Third, medication may be prescribed by your doctor.
This medication will not be specifically for PCOS. It will most likely regulate one the symptoms of PCOS you are experiencing. Birth control pills are a common medication prescribed to help regulate your menstrual cycle which may be irregular. Clomiphene is a anti-estrogen pill to help you ovulate. Spironolactone reduces excessive hair growth, which can happen on the face or body in women with PCOS.
All of these medications are treatment options your doctor may prescribe for managing symptoms of PCOS, not the root cause of the hormone imbalance. Most PCOS treatments involve all of three of these treatment options.
11 Periods Are Still Possible
Even though having an irregular period is the most common symptom of PCOS, you can still have a period. PCOS affects every woman in a different way, and women could be on either end of the spectrum.
While some women may not have periods at all, others may have a very long, heavy period. Menorrhagia is the medical term for a prolonged, heavy period. These periods will be longer than a week, have large clots, stop you from doing everyday activities, and soak through the protection of a pad or tampon every few hours.
Menorrhagia mostly happens to teens, but can happen to women who are about to enter menopause. If you have this, your doctor may prescribe you birth control to help regulate your period. Of course, every person is different so every treatment is different. Bottom line - do not think that because you are having a period means that you do not have PCOS. You can still have a period and have PCOS.
10 Cysts Are Not Always The Culprit
Even though “polycystic” is the first word in PCOS, women may not actually have a cyst.
Women can have all of the symptoms, but no cysts. Lara Briden, a naturopathic doctor with 20 years experience in women's health, explains, “cysts have very little to do with [PCOS]. And no, the cysts will not cause weight gain and infertility and heart disease.” She further discusses how PCOS is a whole-body hormonal condition.
While your ovaries are the victims, hormones are the culprit- not cysts. This is why the inflammation or insulin problem is treated instead of cutting out the cysts, if you have them. It may sound confusing, but you can have an ovarian cyst and not have PCOS.
Also, you can have PCOS and not have a cyst. This confusion is what sparked a recent proposal to change the name from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome to Metabolic Reproductive Syndrome. The latter name better reflects the cause and symptoms of the disease.
9 Acne Can Be An Early Sign
Do you have a zit every now and then? Acne is much worse. Acne is lesions or cysts that form on the skin with the most sebaceous glands, which is face, chest, and back.
Acne is not just for teens. Many women with PCOS get acne. Acne can be an early sign that hormone levels in your body are not right, especially if you typically have clear skin. This should signal you to see your doctor.
You may be thinking, “What does acne have to do with my ovaries?” Well, PCOS raises your testosterone levels, which causes your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. This oil secreting from your skin develops into acne. 27% of women with acne have PCOS, according to one study.
There are ways to alleviate this unwanted skin condition. The foods you eat play an important role in testosterone production. Avoid dairy products- they will make your acne AND your PCOS worse.
8 PCOS Is The Cousin Of Diabetes
Some doctors call PCOS “the cousin of diabetes.”
This is because the two are cause and effect related. PCOS often causes insulin resistance which often causes Type 2 diabetes. In Type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin in the right way. This is typically called adult-onset diabetes, but it is becoming more common in children.
About 90-95% of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes. A person is not born with Type 2 diabetes, it typically develops from diet or lifestyle habits. Everything is interconnected. Hormones ultimately control it all and PCOS results from a hormone imbalance.
If you do develop Type 2 diabetes from your PCOS, you can treat it with diet and lifestyle changes. Eat healthier and exercise more to avoid having to take medication. If you doctor sees fit, he will prescribe you medication to rid your body of the excess insulin. Ultimately, your doctor will do what is best for your specific case of diabetes.
7 Higher Risk For Sleep Disorders
Obstructive Sleep Apnea, OSA, is when your upper airway is blocked which causes your muscles and lungs to work harder to pull in air.
You may have very shallow breathing or stop breathing altogether. You may gasp, snort, or jerk when your breathing resumes. It can cause irregular heart rhythms and decreases the blood flow to your vital organs. You may not be aware this is happening in your sleep. If you have a dry mouth, headaches, fatigue, snoring, night sweats, or restlessness, you may have obstructive sleep apnea. See a doctor to be sure.
The doctor may ask other family members how you sleep or do a sleep study. A sleep study can be done in a lab or at your home. You would wear monitors to measure certain things during sleep, such as breathing, eye movements, and heart rate. Treatments can vary. You may need to lose weight, avoid alcohol, sleep on your side, or use a CPAP machine. One study shows that women with PCOS are 30 times more likely to develop OSA.
6 Blood Sugar Levels
PCOS is caused by a hormone imbalance, and insulin is one of the hormones affected.
Insulin is produced by the pancreas and does many different things: controls carbs, lipids, and proteins, regulates the functions of the body’s cells, and controls how the body uses glucose for energy. It also stimulates appetite, specifically sweets and carbs.
Insulin resistance is when the body’s cells becomes immune to the effects of insulin. When this happens, your body will continue to produce more insulin until your blood sugar rises. This can cause inflammation. It is a precursor to Type 2 diabetes, which many women with PCOS develop.
There are no specific signs or symptoms of insulin resistance. The way to diagnose it is a simple blood glucose test that can be performed by your doctor. Most doctors treat insulin resistance with lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. Some may prescribe medication.
5 Anxious Thoughts Can Increase
Anyone diagnosed with a disease may feel depressed or anxious about their future. However, you are at a higher risk for developing these mental problems if you have PCOS.
60% of women with PCOS have at least one mental health diagnosis such as depression and anxiety. A recent study suggests there is a link between PCOS and mental health. Some doctors attribute this to exposure of testosterone in the womb since women with PCOS have higher levels of testosterone which passes to their unborn children through their blood.
The study confirmed their suspicions. Results of the study showed that children of mothers with higher levels of testosterone, which is a symptom of PCOS, have a higher tendency to have anxiety as adults than others.
Basically, testosterone made them anxious and prevented the gene that could stop the anxious feelings from doing so. If you have PCOS, there are medicines and natural ways to help ease those feelings.
4 Eating Disorders Can Develop
What do your ovaries have to do with an eating disorder? Well, it’s not so much a connection between the PCOS and your stomach. It is a misunderstanding of the treatment.
Women with PCOS are six times more likely to have an eating disorder. Why is this? Doctors commonly treat PCOS by suggesting the patient lose weight. When you hear “lose weight or this could affect your ability to have children,” you may take drastic measures to lose the weight.
The emphasis of weight loss coupled with the possibility of infertility can cause patients to succumb to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. The desire to lose weight quickly causes patients to turn to these eating disorders for fast results. However, the eating disorder causes more harm than it does good. Yes, you may lose weight quickly. Y
ou are also causing damage to your stomach, throat, and mouth with bulimia. Anorexia can damage your heart, brain, and major organs. Weight loss is not the best treatment for PCOS. Losing weight treats the symptoms of PCOS, not the cause.
3 Treatment Is Possible
Do not fear! PCOS is completely treatable! There is no “cure”, but all of the symptoms of PCOS CAN be treated. It should come as a relief, especially if you were recently diagnosed and are searching for answers.
Do not think PCOS is a death sentence. About 1 in 10 women have it and very few reach the far end of the spectrum that includes all of the horrible symptoms you may read about online. Once you begin experiencing symptoms of PCOS, you should seek medical attention.
The sooner you talk to your doctor and are diagnosed, the sooner you can begin your treatment and feel better. Each treatment is specifically tailored to your needs and symptoms. Your doctor will treat you according to your personal needs, so don’t feel like you need to use every treatment you read about. Many women with PCOS live normal lives and conceive children. You will be okay.
2 Healthy Foods Are Crucial
“Diet” is a curse word to many women. However, diet actually means “the kinds of food a person habitually eats,” according to the dictionary.
Your diet is crucial in managing PCOS. The foods you eat can not only help you lose and maintain healthy weight, but it can also regulate the insulin in your body. A healthy diet to manage PCOS should be mostly whole grain, fruits, vegetables, organic meat, essential fatty acids, and water.
You should avoid highly processed foods, dairy, soy, and bad fats (saturated, trans, and hydrogenated). There is no one-size-fits-all diet for PCOS because every woman has different hormone levels to control. Talk to your doctor about what foods will benefit you most and keep your hormones at optimum levels. You will not have to eat salads for the rest of your life. There are plenty of healthy recipes that will fit into your PCOS-friendly diet that are delicious!
1 Exercise Is Key
Everyone needs to exercise, but there are certain exercises that benefit women with PCOS. Overall, exercise is proven to help insulin sensitivity, ovulation, cholesterol, and body composition- all of which is important to women with PCOS.
It is important to do both types of exercises- cardio and strength training. Cardio raises your heart rate and lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease. Strength training builds muscle and burns more calories while you are resting and exercising.
Jean Hailes, an Australian organization that provides evidence-based guidelines for managing PCOS, suggests exercising 150 minutes a week. That breaks down to five different thirty minute sessions, two of which need to be high-intensity aerobic exercise. The main thing is to stick with it! Exercise of any kind will help you manage your PCOS. Find something you enjoy doing or find an exercise partner to keep you accountable and motivated.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, Web MD, and PCOS Nutrition Center