Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), is one of the most common endocrine disorders affecting women of reproductive age. It causes an imbalance of reproductive hormones and affects as many as 1 in 5 women in the UK. Despite the large number of women it affects, many cysters don’t get diagnosed until they are having difficulties conceiving.
What is PCOS?
“Polycystic” means “many cysts” and is a syndrome that occurs when a combination of symptoms affect the ovaries and their function.
PCOS is named after the characteristic appearance of the tiny fluid-filled cysts that are actually follicular sacs that grow inside the ovaries and house the immature eggs.
Importantly, not all women who have polycystic ovaries will have PCOS, you are only diagnosed if you develop specific symptoms along with polycystic ovarian appearance.
What causes PCOS?
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, however, the main culprits responsible for PCOS are thought to be an imbalance in our sex hormones.
High levels of Androgens (Hyperandrogenism):
Androgens are also known as the "male hormones", they play a role in male traits and reproductive activity. But don’t let the name fool you, as these are also important hormones found in women.
Most women have small amounts of androgens such as testosterone. PCOS cysters have a higher than normal androgen level, resulting in a condition termed “hyperandrogenism”.
An excess of anything in our bodies isn’t usually a good sign and high levels of androgens can impact the process of ovulation, leading to excessive hair growth on parts of the body (face, chest, back etc), and causing acne, all of which are characteristic signs of PCOS.
High levels of insulin:
Insulin is the hormone that regulates how the body uses glucose (sugar). Insulin resistance is a response that can occur when our cells are unable to respond normally to insulin, resulting in an abnormal rise in blood insulin levels.
High levels of insulin can lead to weight gain, irregular periods, and higher levels of androgens especially testosterone, which further aggravates the symptoms of PCOS.
PCOS had been found to run in families and having an immediate relative being affected with PCOS, could put you at a higher risk of developing it yourself.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
Irregular menstrual cycle:
As PCOS affects ovulation, you could have irregular periods or stop having them all together.
Excessive hair growth on your face and body, as a result of an androgen imbalance, this is called ‘hirsutism’.
Skin problems due to androgen imbalance such as acne on the face and body, skin darkening and skin tags.
Thinning hair or hair loss on the head.
Weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
PCOS is a leading cause of female infertility because it affects our ovulation.
Infrequent and unpredictable ovulation can cause challenges when trying to get pregnant. However, a diagnosis with PCOS does not necessarily mean that it will result in infertility, some people may need the assistance of fertility treatments, but others are able to conceive naturally.
Development of a large number of cysts also results in the elevation of anti-mullerian hormone, that is released by the follicles. AMH is considered to be a reflection of our ovarian reserve.
We are all unique, so every PCOS cyster will have their own unique journey because
symptoms and their severity vary for each warrior.
How can I be diagnosed for PCOS?
Unfortunately, there is no single test used to diagnose PCOS. A doctor will usually review your medical history, carry out blood tests and an ultrasound examination before confirming a diagnosis.
Medical history: A review of your menstrual periods, weight changes, and other symptoms as well as family history in case you have affected relatives.
Hormonal blood tests: Your doctor may check your hormone levels including androgens like testosterone, anti-mullerian hormone and insulin.
Ultrasound analysis: A scan on your ovaries may be conducted to see if there are any signs of small cysts. They may also check your uterus, particularly it’s lining, the endometrium, in case you have been having irregular periods. Irregular periods can prevent the endometrium from being effectively shed each month, resulting in endometrial thickening.
Is there a PCOS cure?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for PCOS. All treatments are aimed at managing and reducing the symptoms of the condition. These treatments are usually a combination of medication and lifestyle changes such as weight loss, a healthy diet and routine exercise regime.
If you’re ready to start tracking your fertility, or have any questions about your overall female health, we’d love to help you out. Why not join our waitlist and we’ll let you know when we’re live so we can help guide you along the fertility path.