– Oh! Are you eating a lot these days? You have become so fat!
– What happened to your face? Don’t you take care of your skin? Just look at you, too much acne!
– You know, I just can’t handle your mood swings!
– Again you are depressed! Oh God!
– You are very lucky, you don’t get your period every month!
These are some insensitive comments that a woman with PCOS has to face every now and then. PCOS. Have you ever heard the name of it? You will be surprised to know, every 1 in 10 women has PCOS. That means, the total number is a lot! (please, you do the math).
It has become a common hormonal disorder among women. But, it is still a neglected topic to talk about. Many people don’t even know about it. Hence, my today’s topic is PCOS. Let’s dive into the topic that we barely discuss.
What is PCOS :
PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. It is a condition that affects women’s hormones. This hormonal disorder is common among women in their childbearing age (age 15-45). It is the leading cause of infertility, type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, endometrial cancer.
The ovaries, women’s reproductive organs, produce female hormones and a small amount of male hormones named Androgen. Female hormones like Estrogen and Progesterone regulate the menstrual cycle. But, in the case of PCOS, ovaries produce abnormal amounts of male hormones which causes irregularity in the menstrual cycle.
Ovulation is the release of a mature egg from one of the ovaries. Then, the egg can be fertilized by a male sperm. Otherwise, the egg is sent out of the body during the period if it is not fertilized. In some cases, women’s bodies don’t produce enough hormones needed for ovulation. The lack of ovulation causes hormonal imbalance and develops multiple tiny cysts (usually more than 20) in each ovary. The name polycystic itself describes the situation. “Polycystic” means “many cysts”. Women with PCOS have multiple tiny cysts in their ovaries which thicken their ovaries’ walls.
These cysts are basically fluid-filled sacs that contain immature eggs. And those eggs are never mature enough to trigger ovulation.
Moreover, those sacs make Androgen, the male hormones. As a result, higher levels of androgens than usual are present in women’s bodies. On the contrary, the level of female hormones lowers. This hormonal imbalance and the presence of higher androgens disrupt the normal menstrual cycle. Extra male hormones result in irregularity of the menstrual cycle.
However, it is also seen that women with no cysts can also have PCOS.
What Causes PCOS :
The exact causes of PCOS is still unknown. Doctors believe that the presence of high male hormones is a barrier to produce the other necessary hormones. There are some key factors related to excess Androgen production. They are :
- Insulin resistance :
Researches show that almost 70% of women who have been diagnosed with PCOS have insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone, produced by pancreas, that controls the sugar level of the body. Insulin resistance is a condition where the body can’t use the insulin properly. To cover up, the pancreas produces more insulin. As a result, insulin level builds up which triggers the production of excess male hormones.
Insulin resistance is the primary cause of Type-II diabetes. That’s why women with PCOS are more likely to develop it than others.
Obesity is the major cause of insulin resistance. That implies, women who are overweight or obese are more likely to have PCOS.
- Heredity :
It can be genetic. If your mother or sister or cousins have PCOS then there is a high chance you might have PCOS as well.
- Hormonal Imbalance :
Hormonal imbalance triggers the symptoms of PCOS. Many women with this syndrome have imbalances in these certain hormones.
- Testosterone : Along with androgen, a woman’s body also produces a small amount of another male hormone testosterone. Higher levels of testosterone increase the chance of insulin resistance.
- LH : Luteinizing Hormone (LH) stimulates the ovulation. The lack of ovulation alters the level of LH and FSH (follicles stimulating hormone).
The exact reasons behind the hormonal imbalance is still unknown. But it assumes that these changes start from the ovary itself.
Symptoms of PCOS :
Hormonal imbalance has negative effects on the body. It affects the body and increases the odds of health conditions. Symptoms of PCOS may vary from woman to woman. There are some common symptoms of PCOS :
- Irregular menstrual cycle :
The excess level of male hormones halts the ovulation process. Irregular menstrual cycle is the one of the main symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome. Most women with PCOS have an unpredictable menstrual cycle. Some get infrequent periods or some get no period at all (amenorrhea).
Some women get fewer than eight periods in a year (9 to 12 periods in a year are considered as normal). This irregularity increases the risk of Endometrial Cancer.
So, no, a girl with an irregular menstrual cycle can’t be considered lucky!
- Weight gain :
80% of women with PCOS gain excess body fat. Usually, the fat stores in the lower abdominal part of the body. That doesn’t mean weight gain causes PCOS. But PCOS definitely makes it harder for you to manage your weight, as PCOS is a metabolic and inflammatory condition.
It’s not easy for a woman who has PCOS to control her weight. It also slows down the weight losing process.
So, if you see a woman is gaining weight rapidly, just don’t body shame her. She might have PCOS that thwarts her weight losing process. Be sensible, be humble.
- Acne :
Everybody wants a smooth skin. But, it becomes difficult to have a nice skin when you have PCOS. The hormonal changes may cause severe acne on your face, neck etc. Even the clogged pores and the breakouts may not clear up and you may need to visit a dermatologist for the acne treatments.
Again, if we see any woman with acne, please don’t pass any insensitive comment. Nobody wants acne! Moreover, don’t give any home remedies for that as well.
- Excessive hair growth :
More than 70% of women with PCOS face this problem. “Hirsutism” or excessive hair growth on the body is another common symptom of this syndrome. High levels of male hormones develops a “male pattern” of hair growth. As a result, excessive hair grows on chest, upper lips, face, neck and back.
- Baldness and thin hair :
The male hormones also cause hair fall on the scalp. Male like baldness are also visible in some cases.
- Skin changes :
Insulin resistance can lead to the development of thick, darker patches on the back of the neck, in the armpits.
These are the common symptoms that women with PCOS have. PCOS affects other hormones. Therefore, there is no wonder, you can find 100 other symptoms of it. Actually, every woman with PCOS has different stories to tell.
There’s no cure to PCOS. Doctors even don’t know the exact cause of it. Dealing with it is a mammoth task to do. Not only the physical toll, a woman suffering from it has to deal with the emotional toll as well. Around 40% of women suffer from depression, anxiety after the diagnosis. She doesn’t choose this, she doesn’t want to deal with all these mood swings, acne, hair growth, sleep apnea. But, she has to, right?
To sum up, all I want to say is to show her the empathy that she deserves. She is a warrior, she is fighting a battle, just give her the mental support she needs.