I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be for women who are experiencing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). As someone had two ovarian cysts removed in 2011, I know the feeling of dealing with abdominal pain and unexpected hormonal changes at a young age. But while my condition was easily remedied, PCOS still doesn’t have a solid cure and continues to be a problem among several women—young and old.
If this is your first time hearing about PCOS, you might be wondering what it is, what causes it, and more importantly, its effects. So here’s a guide to keep you informed. You can also share this with everyone you know because you might just help or encourage them to get a check-up if something’s wrong.
What causes it?
For the longest time, doctors couldn’t pinpoint the cause of PCOS. Health Line listed contributing factors like genes, insulin resistance, and inflammation in their body. But just yesterday, researchers from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research found that PCOS “may be triggered before birth by excess exposure in the womb to a hormone called anti-Müllerian hormone.”
The anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) is “a hormone secreted by cells in developing egg sacs.” It’s also known as an indicator of how many egg sacs are in the ovaries. According to the research, pregnant women with PCOS are said to have 30 percent higher levels of this hormone.
They also found that PCOS can indeed be passed down genetically. The researchers tested this by injecting an excess amount of AMH on pregnant mice, and discovered that the female offsprings exhibited syndromes growing up.
When do you start seeing symptoms?
PCOS can happen to girls as young as 15 years old. Women’s Health noted, “Most often, women find out they have PCOS in their 20s and 30s, when they have problems getting pregnant and see their doctor. But PCOS can happen at any age after puberty.”
What are the symptoms?
The most telling sign that you might have PCOS is when you have irregular menstrual cycles. This means that your period can come 35 days (or even more) after and that you may have an abnormally heavy flow. So if your period doesn’t happen monthly, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your OB-GYNE to see if you have a reproductive problem of some sort. (Don’t make the same mistake as me. I used to have heavy periods twice a month for almost three months, and only got checked when I was rushed to the ER. That’s when I found out I had two ovarian cysts. Eep!)
Other symptoms include excess androgen, which causes women to have more facial and body hair than usual and severe acne; and your ovaries are polycystic and appear enlarged.
How do you check if you have PCOS?
After your doctor asks you about the symptoms we mentioned above, he/she will advise you to do some tests for a proper diagnosis. According to WebMD, these include a pelvic exam and sonogram to check your reproductive system and your ovaries; blood tests to check your various hormone levels; and an AMH test to see how well your ovaries are working.
What are the complications?
The number one complication is infertility, which affects most women with the condition. WebMD also cited others like developing insulin resistance, depression, anxiety, inflammation of the liver, having higher risk of uterine cancer, and many others.
There are also different complications for pregnant women. The PCOS Awareness Association noted, “Women with PCOS are at higher risk for pregnancy and delivery complications. These include a three-fold increase in miscarriage risk in early pregnancy compared to women without PCOS, gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) which can lead to large babies, preeclampsia which is characterized by sudden elevated blood pressure and body swelling after the 20th week of pregnancy, preterm birth, and C-section delivery.”
How can it be treated?
Women with PCOS may be prescribed contraceptive pills to regularize their menstrual cycle. This can also reduce the risk of developing endometrial cancer which happens when one has irregular periods. Progestin therapy may also be advised for 10 to 14 days every one to two months. Some birth control pills can also decrease androgen production. Mayo Clinic also listed down medication that will help women ovulate. These include clomiphene, letrozole, metformin, and gonadotropins.
Art by Marian Hukom
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