Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, known as PCOS, is more widely recognized by physicians and in health literature than it was a decade ago, yet many women don’t know the symptoms, or the complications. Many who have this syndrome are not aware that they have it, but they are likely aware that they have many health problems that they wish they didn’t. Often, the culprit is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
PCOS occurs when a hormonal imbalance causes the male hormone androgen to be secreted in greater amounts than normal. While researchers aren’t entirely sure why this happens, they do know it is related to insulin-resistance and tends to run in families, so there is a genetic link. Why are people concerned about PCOS?
Once only a problem that women who struggled with infertility worried about, it is now being considered as a warning of a host of other illnesses and health problems, including obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, heart disease, and Type II diabetes.
Once a month, women of childbearing age should ovulate, assuming they are not on birth control pills or other hormonal methods. PCOS occurs when the egg fails to completely break through the wall of the ovary, instead causing fluid filled cysts on the ovary. When this happens, not only does the woman not ovulate, she also begins to produce more and more androgens, which causes a vicious cycle. Her ovary may even harden from the cysts, making it further unlikely that she will ovulate properly. PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women, but it ravages the individual in other ways as well.
Some symptoms of PCOS can include weight gain that doesn’t seem to respond to dieting, especially a storage of fat around a woman’s midsection. This is due to the fact that she needs to produce more insulin in order to use the glucose in her body. Of course, this causes major havoc on a woman’s self esteem, and is frustrating since traditional dieting methods often fail. Some women have good results with exercise, which lowers insulin demand.
Women can also develop a body hair pattern similar to that of a male — they may experience scalp hair thinning or baldness, as well as hair growing on the face, arms, stomach, chest, and back. The medical term for this is hirsutism, and it has long been correlated with women who experience difficulty becoming pregnant. While hair can be removed through various measures, it does not cure the underlying problem and can take a toll on a woman’s self image.
Acne is another sign of PCOS — the hormonal disorder often causes skin breakouts ranging from mild to severe, and may be resistant to usual acne-fighting regimes. Acne may also occur elsewhere on the body such as the back and chest. Women might also develop a dark ring around their neck from distorted pigmentation due to the hormonal imbalance. This ring does not wash away and may feel “velvety” in texture.
Skin tags can be another sign of PCOS — they are generally flesh colored and may occur on the face and neck, as well as less commonly on other parts of the body. The link between skin tags and PCOS is not fully understood, according to SELF.
Menstrual irregularities are a very common sign, where women may not have and period at all, or only every few months. This is because the woman is not regularly ovulating, which in turn leads to infertility. Women may also experience bleeding without ovulations, caused when the uterine lining gets too thick.
Any of these symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor, even if women are not trying to get pregnant. Diet and exercise, as well as the medication Metformin, have helped keep insulin levels in check and may stop complications from occurring.[Photo by Doug Shutter/Shutterstock]